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The Storm at the NHC

By: MargieKieper , 5:05 PM GMT on July 04, 2007

Thursday evening update: Today a large number of the staff at the TPC/NHC signed a petition asking for Bill Proenza to be replaced as NHC Director -- again documented by the Miami Herald. This was done off-site and not all the employees were able to be contacted regarding the petition. However a large majority of the employees who were contacted, about 70%, did sign the petition.

This morning, HRD discussed the matter at an all-hands meeting, and unanimously supports Proenza. Of course, none of the HRD employees work for Proenza, so I am not sure how this vote of confidence would factor into any decision on Proenza's tenure, and it seems that NOAA has already set in motion the actions that will lead to resignation or termination. I may have more information regarding HRD's point of view tomorrow.

It was very interesting that Proenza's own administrative staff signed the petition. Many people at the center have had difficulties working with Proenza, and this factored heavily into some of the decisions. This is unfortunate because this past six months should have been the time to establish a rapport and good working relationship with the staff, and it is telling that not only the Senior Hurricane Specialists and other senior staff, but the administrative staff as well, are willing to go on record as stating that they would prefer a new NHC Director. It does appear that the concerns about whether Proenza can be an effective manager are valid ones, as it is hard to imagine how so many people could take this extreme position without there being quite a bit of substance to their concerns.

I want to try to clarify something. I had concerns with the QuikSCAT numbers from the get-go, I researched the issue with the QuikSCAT data for some time, and I contributed in a major way to the blog Jeff and I co-authored Wednesday, to the point of seeing what I wrote posted in many places on the web in the last day -- but while I do support the Hurricane Specialists, who put their heart into their job on every shift, and while I have come to view Bill Proenza in a very critical light, I am not a meteorologist and in that sense am not part of the tropical met community, and so it is not my place to say anything regarding whether Bill Proenza should step down. That would be overstepping my bounds. Perhaps this is too fine a distinction to draw, but to me it is an important distinction. I want to correct any misimpressions that may have arisen.

Thursday morning update: The third named storm of the West Pacific season formed and subsequently made landfall while in the Gulf of Tonkin. This storm was named Toraji and never strengthened beyond minimal tropical storm strength.

To answer a question on satellites in the news, this was undoubtably referring to the NPOESS program. The scope of the program was reduced and a number of sensors for monitoring climate were cut.

* * * * * * *

Jeff and I have co-authored Jeff Master's WunderBlog, today, which provides a different perspective on the situation at the National Hurricane Center, based on our research into the QuikSCAT statistics presented in the press this past spring, and what we feel is a fair and balanced assessment of the issues raised in the press by NHC Director Bill Proenza.

As time allows over the next couple days I'll be using the blog to post some of the detail and background information from researching the QuikSCAT issue. This will include an analysis of the phone interview the Miami Herald did with Proenza prior to the relase of their Tuesday evening breaking news story, and some interesting information on the history and varied uses of the QuikSCAT satellite, including more detail taken from last spring's workshop.

* * * * * * *

On a Friday in mid-March, I read for the first time Bill Proenza's comments on the reduction in track forecast error accuracy that he believed would occur once QuikSCAT reached the end of its lifespan and failed, in an AP article written by Jessica Gresko, "Hurricane Forecasts May Be Less Accurate" (no longer available online). The article was subtitled, "Aging satellite provides key information, meteorologist says." The numbers, and the emphasis on track forecast rather than intensity forecast, astounded me.

So, bright and early on Saturday morning, I went to the NHC website and pulled the 48-hour and 72-hour average seasonal track error numbers for all years since QuikSCAT became operational -- from 1999 through 2006.

Using the data from these seasonal verification reports available online from NHC, it was a straightforward matter to immediately quantify these track error percentages. Since QuikSCAT data became available, starting in 1999, average track errors for 48-hour and 72-hour forecasts have been reduced by 43 mi and 62 mi respectively. Since 2004, the 48-hour and 72-hour track errors have been approximately 100 and 150 miles respectively. An additional error of 10% for the 100-mile 48-hour track forecast error would result in an error of 110 miles, or one quarter of the 43-mile gain in 2-day track forecasts since 1999 (23%). An additional error of 16% for the 150-mile 72-hour track forecast error would result in an error of 174 miles, or about 2/5 of the 62-mile gain since 1999 (39%).

I then contacted a key meteorologist in the field, who also shared my doubts regards the attribution of such a sizable quantity of the gains in track forecasting to QuikSCAT data.

Much later I reviewed the legislation in Congress to provide funding specifically for a next-generation scatterometer satellite to replace QuikSCAT. One thing struck me in the numbers for this portion of the bill:

(7) Despite its continuing performance, the QuikSCAT satellite is well beyond its expected design life and a replacement is urgently needed because, according to the National Hurricane Center, without the QuikSCAT satellite--

(A) hurricane forecasting would be 16 percent less accurate 72 hours before hurricane landfall and 10 percent less accurate 48 hours before hurricane landfall resulting in--

(i) with a 16 percent loss of accuracy at 72 hours before landfall, the area expected to be under hurricane danger would rise from 197 miles to 228 miles on average; and

(ii) with a 10 percent loss of accuracy at 48 hours before landfall, the area expected to be under hurricane danger would rise from 136 miles to 150 miles on average;
I realized that the numbers provided for track forecast accuracy, 136 miles at 48 hours, and 197 miles at 72 hours, were on par with the averaged track errors representative of 2002 (137.5 and 200.1), not current average track forecast errors, which, since 2004, have been on the order of 100 and 150 miles. These numbers, 136 and 197 miles, might come from a different metric perhaps relating to coastal warning areas (the "cone of error"). If so, this may be mixing apples and oranges. No background material is yet available to source these numbers, but the study that provided the basis for the estimated loss of accuracy, 10% at 48 hrs and 16% at 72 hrs, has been shown in the blog Jeff and I posted today to have limitations that preclude reasonably extrapolating the results to landfalling tropical cyclone track errors.

* * * * * * *

I want to go on the record to express my support to the four NHC Senior Hurricane Forecasters Avila, Franklin, Knabb, and Pasch, who publicly expressed their concerns and provided a balancing perspective to what has been, up until now, hidden from the public view.

Things have been more like Stravinsky than Ravel lately at the NHC (shouting matches in the hallways!...and I always associate Ravel with water). Let's hope that these major issues are resolved soon and they can look ahead to the busy portion of the hurricane season with no more than the usual amount of stress that comes with the job.

Katrina's Surge

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Reader Comments

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19. phillyfan909
4:05 PM GMT on July 06, 2007
BTW (speaking of politics and weather) has there been any new fallout re. the misleading info about the tropical cyclone in the Indian Ocean a few weeks ago?

The UN should charter another hurricane prediction center in Karachi. Have it be responsible for the Indian Ocean north of the Equator and west of the southern tip of India.

Keep us posted.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
18. phillyfan909
3:47 PM GMT on July 06, 2007
I'm sure scatterometers are important for other uses besides hurricanes, but why didn't other agencies that would be impacted go public about their needs, the way Proenza did? If they are that important for the west coast, would the director responsible for that branch have done the same thing, or teamed up with him?

I don't think Margie Kieper has any axe to grind. But I agree with Puntagordapete, we haven't seen it all and we don't know yet.
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17. jaxparrothead
1:18 PM GMT on July 06, 2007
By your own admission, you are basing your aguements on landfalling hurricane forecasts. These are only a small part of the forecasts made by the NHC. They issue forecasts every 6 hours for the life of a tropical storm. You must also consider those forecasts in your statistics.

The job of the NHC is to protect live and property during a tropical cyclone, not just at landfall. Forecast errors over the open ocean need to be considered also. Storms spend more time over water than over land. Merchant marines and blue water sailors must also be protected. Although this is a small amount of potential damage, your figures do not take them into account.

Hurricane Hunter planes do not travel farther east that 50-55W in the Atlantic. Buoys in this part of the ocean are non-existant. The only way to provide adequate storm information is from shipping reports, ships that have already gone into harms way to provide those reports. The shipping industry must be kept in this equation, therefore, the NHC's forecast points must be included in the equation.

In your Thursday evening update, you state that it is not your place to call for the removal of Mr. Proenza, but your comments and your stated support for those who do, state otherwise. Respectively, perhaps a bit of balance in the arguement is called for.

You are, as you stated in your original post, comparing apples to oranges. A futher review of the actual forecast errors, day by day and not seasonal, is called for. You fault Director Proenza for issueing statements based on a bad scientific report. You seem to be doing the same.

Thank you for allowing me to post my comments and concerns.

Steve Palmeter
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
16. stormybil
8:38 AM GMT on July 06, 2007
imo opnion he bill p didnt sound or look like someone that can warn people from the heart . like max and the others did you can see it in thier eyes when they talk hurricane season so he just didnt have it for me . who is replacing him anyone know yet
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15. Rainman32
6:30 AM GMT on July 06, 2007
Something seems to be getting lost in the politics here. Yes Proenza used "flawed intelligence" siting an unpublished report that would be hard to use ultimately supporting the position; as Skye Points out on Dr. Masters' there are plenty of other studies by NASA, NOAA & etc... google that could have been used. Apparently he is a horrible manager and politician too. Sooo.. What about QuikSCAT? How about we look at A History of Scatterometry

An excerpt: The NSCAT mission proved so successful, that plans for a follow-on mission were accelerated to minimize the gap in the scatterometer wind database. The QuikSCAT mission (http://winds.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/quikscat/index.cfm) launched SeaWinds in June 1999.

Well, and did you know that there actually was another SeaWinds on ADEOS II (http://winds.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/seawinds/index.cfm) Launched in 2002? The The SeaWinds instrument on the ADEOS-II satellite (Midori-II) measured near-surface ocean wind speed and direction. This specialized radar instrument, launched on 14 December 2002, measured winds over 900f the ice-free oceans on a daily basis from 10 April to 24 October 2003, when ADEOS-II irrecoverably lost power.

So just what does this thing do that makes it so special anyhow? well among the Applications: Observing Oceans from Space you find these excerpts

Weather Forecasting – Data from ocean scatterometers greatly enhances overall weather-forecasting capabilities. Most of the weather over the west coast of the United States, and some over the east coast, is generated over the oceans. The measurements derived from ocean scatterometers are assimilated into numerical models (computer programs that represent natural processes in terms of equations), which can be used to predict global and regional weather patterns. The data are delivered to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) within two hours, where they are used for timely, accurate weather forecasting.

Storm Detection – The ocean scatterometer data can determine the location, direction, structure and strength of storms at sea. Severe marine storms ­ hurricanes near the Americas, typhoons in Asian waters, and mid-latitude cyclones worldwide are among the most destructive of all natural phenomena. In the United States alone hurricanes have been responsible for at least 17,000 deaths since 1900, and hundreds of millions of dollars in damage annually. If worldwide statistics are considered, the numbers are substantially higher. Although typically not as violent as hurricanes and typhoons, mid-latitude cyclones exact a heavy toll in casualties and material damage.

In recent years, our ability to detect and track severe storms has been dramatically enhanced by the advent of weather satellites. Cloud images from space are now routine on weather reports. Data from ocean scatterometers augment these familiar images by providing direct measurements of surface winds to compare with the observed cloud patterns. These wind data help meteorologists to more accurately identify the extent of gale force winds associated with a storm, and provide inputs to numerical models that provide advanced warning of high waves and flooding.

Oh and stuff about Oil and Food Production, El Niño, etc..

Well, well so this was already on NASA's site and Proenza isn't the first person to champion this very useful tool.. I Wonder how all of the scientists at JPL feel about it?

Folks don't throw out the baby with the bathwater, Try to find anything close to it Remotely Sensed Ocean Surface Winds

Your gonna miss this:

Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
14. DocNDswamp
5:50 AM GMT on July 06, 2007
Lest anyone think "shouting matches", loud disagreements or animated discussions within the NHC were never seen before the embattled Director Proenza's views took center stage... obviously knows little how "consensus forecasts" are reached there...

What really stands out is how senior staffers / lead forecasters quickly wrote / signed the petition calling for Proenza's ouster just a few short days after NOAA's Gestapo team pulled their surprise visit... I'm sure more than a few Washington bureaucrats are beaming with a smirk of conquest on their faces... Draw your own conclusions...
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12. EmmyRose
4:42 AM GMT on July 06, 2007
does that mean brownie gets the job?
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11. Tazmanian
4:24 AM GMT on July 06, 2007
bring back maxs
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10. Tazmanian
4:23 AM GMT on July 06, 2007
so is bill gone are they finding some one new as we talk i sure they want to find some some one new fast and get this done and overe with
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9. EmmyRose
3:17 AM GMT on July 06, 2007
whoa proenza got like banned from the nhc.
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8. HurricaneSteve
1:39 AM GMT on July 06, 2007
Max won't come back because he was asked to leave by prez Bush after the Katrina-New Orleans debacle.

Here is the latest on the NHC.

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7. WPBHurricane05
1:46 PM GMT on July 05, 2007
is Bill Proenza on his way out is max on his way back in sure wish we had maxs back

Max will most likely not come back. I think he enjoys his job on Local 10 in Miami. He doesn't have the stress that he did as the director. Now all he has to do is relay the information that the NHC releases and restate it in a way that makes since to the public. I enjoy watching Max Mayfield, Don Noe, and Trent Aric on Local 10.
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6. PuntaGordaPete
1:25 PM GMT on July 05, 2007
It seems unlikely that the QuikSCAT issue is at the root of the clash within the NHC. It is merely one of the vents for the underlying volcano. There must be some fundamental personality and management-style disagreements that are far more important than a satellite.

I too would like to see more Government support for all sorts of technical infrastructure. Weather satellites, research funding, ground and airborne instrumentation, and other physical sciences are all suffering while we attempt to build bridges to nowhere.
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5. sullivanweather
4:36 AM GMT on July 05, 2007
Which ever situation plays itself out, in the end a new satellite will still be needed. Maybe QuikSCAT improves hurricane forecasts, maybe it doesn't, but what it does do is provide a much more detailed look into a cyclones' structure. This is invaluable imformation for hurricane experts whether they are forecasting for the here and now or looking back at previous storm data for better understanding.

I also remember hearing recently in the news that half of the satellites that monitor climate and weather are expected to be out of service within 10 years, with nothing budgeted for new satellites. Hopefully the issue happening at the NHC will put some pressure on those in congress to introduce new spending for new technology in new satellites.

What was the estimated cost of putting a new QuikSCAT satellite into orbit at?? 330 million somewhat dollars?? Aren't we wasting that much money per day in Iraq?!
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4. Tazmanian
3:52 AM GMT on July 05, 2007
is Bill Proenza on his way out is max on his way back in sure wish we had maxs back

did they find any one new to take overe Bill Proenza job yet ???

this asking
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3. LouisC
8:11 PM GMT on July 04, 2007
On thbe Miami Herald's Web site is an audio interview with Bill Proenza. http://www.miamiherald.com/779/story/10148-a159751-t4.html
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
2. Patrap
5:24 PM GMT on July 04, 2007
At COAPS, we have found that examining animations of scatterometer winds ... The scatterometers on ERS-1 is the same design as the scatterometer on ERS-2

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1. Patrap
5:16 PM GMT on July 04, 2007
When we do get through the politics and rhetoric of the debate and The NHC directors position..on qickscat.The bottom line is we need a follow on spacecraft to carry a next generation scatterometer to orbit. Hopefully..in a few years,we surely can accomplish that.

I just wish the NHC director the best and hope he remains. Noaa has my comments on the matter.

To send ones comments to NOAA ,heres the contact page..Link
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