On Unfortunate NHC Developments

Yesterday brought some sad news from Miami regarding the death of former NHC and HRD director Bob Burpee (Miami Herald). It was a sad story to begin with that Bob effectively had to retire from his NHC post back in ’97 because of chronic and debilitating illnesses, but even more so because Bob was a genuinely likable and highly intelligent guy whose already immense contributions to the hurricane research and forecasting world were far from complete. Max Mayfield alluded to this in his online tribute to Bob (contained within his new hurricane BLOG for Channel 10 in South Florida).

I didn’t know Bob as well as many folks there, since he was at HRD during my NHC tenure. But I did speak with him on his visits to NHC, thoroughly enjoyed hearing and learning from his flight stories, and vividly recall one fine party he threw sometime after Hurricane Andrew. He lived with South Florida impresario Judy Drucker in a very nice condo, perhaps 20 floors above Biscayne Bay, near Vizcaya. On the night of the party, the streets around their condo tower were flooded with salt water from the combination of stiff onshore flow and high tide, and driving through the street-turned-bay contributed to a good deal of rust that accumulated beneath my Roachmobile. [This was fine with me…just another “battle scar” for that old junk heap.] Bob and Judy were fantastic hosts, the food and drink were abundant, the view amazing, and the radar and satellite loops playing on the TV screens included some of Andrew that I haven’t seen before or since. A great time…

Bob’s death happens amidst the ongoing soap opera revolving around the new directorship of NHC/TPC, Bill Proenza’s provocative comments directed publicly toward those above him in rank, apparently considerable internal discord, the resultant removal of Bill, and his efforts to be reinstated. What a mess!

At least 20-25 people have asked me for my insights into the whole ordeal, since I used to work there and still know several folks in that center. I wish I had some insights to offer, but the truth is I know what you know through the press reports; and we all know that the popular press cannot and should not be relied upon for the whole story in something like this.

Otherwise… Honestly, the whole thing is as much a mystery to me as anyone else outside NHC. I’ve been busy working, eating, sleeping and traveling, haven’t spoken with my friends and colleagues there in several months since most of this unfolded. I simply don’t know what in the world is really going on inside those thick concrete walls…or in Washington where some unusual and unprecedented decisions have been carried out.

I have spoken with neither Bill nor any of my forecaster friends in several months either. I’m certainly not about to bug any of them about this mess during hurricane season. They’ve got more important stuff to do. In due time we’ll understand this whole ordeal better, but for now, let’s let those guys and gals at NHC focus on doing what they do best: predicting tropical cyclones. The rest can wait.

Given that a lot of those folks are friends and respected colleagues of mine whose trust I value, even if I do learn something bizarre or amazing, don’t count on my blabbing about any of it on this BLOG anyway. I care hugely about NHC and its people, and have been distressed to see this happening to them all (Bill, the forecasters, the admin folks, the computer support people…everybody there). And I refuse to “take sides” in something I know so little about.

In the meantime, Chuck Doswell has written an essay on the NHC mess that is well worth reading, and seems to capture in words what a lot of folks in the field are thinking.

What’s my take for now? Simple: Let’s move on! It’s about damn time for the sad and bad news to end from Miami.

Whatever shakes out of the directorship soap opera, the important thing (as Max mentioned elsewhere in his BLOG) is for the NHC forecast mission to proceed with utmost support and excellence. Whether with Bill, Ed or someone else at the helm, the success of NHC’s forecasting must take priority. Lives depend on it.


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