NewsFebruary 7, 2013

Winter Storm Expert to Lead National Weather Service

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Andrew Freedman

By Andrew Freedman

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is turning to an agency veteran and winter weather expert, Louis W. Uccellini, to lead the troubled National Weather Service (NWS) at a time of budget challenges and ongoing debate over the agency's performance during Hurricane Sandy. Acting director Laura K. Furgione will return to her previous role as deputy administrator of the NWS.

NOAA made the announcement as the agency geared up to warn the public about an approaching blizzard in the Northeast. Uccellini, 63, is widely regarded as one of the top winter weather experts in the country, having coauthored the widely cited two-volume book, Northeast Snowstorms.

Louis W. Uccellini

He has led the NWS' National Centers for Environmental Prediction in College Park, Md., since 1999. While at that center, he was responsible for directing the planning, science and technology, and operational responsibilities related to seven national centers, including the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Uccellini is also a fellow of the American Meteorological Society and just completed his term as the society's president.

Unlike some previous NWS directors, Uccellini holds a Ph.D. in meteorology and has worked in meteorology his entire career. 

The NWS has made headlines in recent months for financial mismanagement, which claimed the jobs of the previous NWS Director and other managers, and just last week the director of the agency's southern division was fired after he spoke out to the Washington Post about the possible effects of congressional budget cuts. The NWS is operating with fewer staff due to budget difficulties, and is facing the possibility that it will lose data from a key weather satellite in 2017 due to delays in launching a replacement, which could degrade forecast accuracy.

“The past year had its success stories with superior outlooks, forecasts and warnings, including those for Sandy, but difficulties remain. Our eyes remain locked on the future to ensure a National Weather Service that is second to none and supports a weather-ready nation,” Uccellini said in a press release.

The agency has also come under fire for not issuing hurricane warnings north of North Carolina for Hurricane Sandy, due to what may have been an erroneous projection that the storm would not be an actual hurricane well before making landfall. There is an ongoing debate in the meteorology community about whether Sandy still had enough characteristics of a tropical weather system to be considered a hurricane when it made landfall in southern New Jersey on the evening of Oct. 29. This issue has major ramifications for insurance agencies, since hurricane insurance policies require a hurricane warning to be issued in order to kick in. An internal review of the agency's actions prior to, during, and after Hurricane Sandy is currently underway. 

The Obama administration has not yet announced a pick for the new NOAA administrator, with Jane Lubchenco leaving to return to academia. The NWS is just one of several agencies within NOAA.

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