NOAA announced today
that the new director of the National Hurricane Center will be Bill Read, 58, who has served as the center's acting deputy director since August 2007. Previously, he served as director of Houston's National Weather Service office, a post he took in 1992. Bill was called in to work at NHC three times between 1992 and 2005 to help out with hurricane emergencies. Prior to his job in Houston, Bill served in the U.S. Navy, where his duties included an assignment as an on-board meteorologist with the Hurricane Hunters. He began his career in 1977 with the National Weather Service test and evaluation division in Sterling, VA; developed his forecasting skills in Fort Worth and San Antonio, Texas; and, served as severe thunderstorm and flash flood program leader at the National Weather Service headquarters in Silver Spring, MD.
I got a chance to speak with Bill this week at the annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society in New Orleans. I asked him what his focus would be as director of NHC, and he promised to continue the main themes of Max Mayfield, emphasizing hurricane preparedness and education. I asked him what we should do with the Saffir-Simpson scale, which rates hurricanes as Category 1 through 5, based on their wind speeds. This scale has obvious limitations, as proved when a weakening Category 3 Hurricane Katrina brought a storm surge characteristic of a Category 5 storm to the shore. Bill responded that we absolutely had to keep the Saffir-Simpson scale, since it has proved its usefulness in many situations. Discarding it would cause confusion. He promised, however, to explore ways to improve public outreach efforts and educate people on the limitations of the Saffir-Simpson scale. I agree with both of these points. Finally, I asked him how he was progressing with the technical aspect of issuing hurricane forecasts. His predecessor, Bill Proenza, was criticized by his staff for not taking an interest in forecasting. Bill Read responded that he was involved in forecasting for all of the tropical storms and hurricanes that occurred in 2007, after his August arrival at the center. In particular, he emphasized how he happened to be on duty the night Hurricane Humberto blew into a hurricane just 18 hours after it formed as a tropical depression. He's definitely experienced some time on the hot seat with that storm! All in all, my impression is that the new director will fit in much better at NHC than Bill Proenza did, since Read is less of an outsider. He is a good listener, easy to talk to, and a good communicator, traits essential for a successful NHC director. In the coming months, we'll have a chance to see how the new director fits. I'm optimistic that Bill can become a top-notch NHC director, and wish him well in his mission.