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National Hurricane Center director leaves position

  • Story Highlights
  • National Hurricane Center director Bill Proenza has left his position
  • Nearly half of the NHC signed a petition calling for him to step down
  • Proenza came under fire for comments he made about the QuikSCAT satellite
  • Staff unhappy with environment of closed doors, public bickering
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- National Hurricane Center director Bill Proenza left his position Monday, just days after nearly half of the NHC staff signed a petition calling for his ouster.

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Hurricane Center Bill Proenza left his job as director Monday.

Proenza is still employed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration -- a parent organization of the NHC -- but he is currently on leave, said NOAA spokesman Anson Franklin.

Deputy Director Ed Rappaport has been temporarily placed in charge.

Proenza, 62, became the director in January after the retirement of Max Mayfield.

Proenza caused an uproar last month with comments about a key hurricane satellite called QuikSCAT. The satellite is five years beyond its life expectancy and operating on a backup transmitter. Proenza said if it were to fail, forecast tracks could be thrown off by as much as 16 percent.

He said Washington reprimanded him for the remarks: "They wanted me to be quiet about it."

But one of the center's longtime forecasters said Proenza's comments were misguided.

"QuikSCAT is another tool that we use to forecast," Lixion Avila said. "The forecast will not be degraded if we don't have the QuikSCAT."

Last week, the Commerce Department launched an unscheduled review of the hurricane center after word of the staff's dissatisfaction started to become public.

His staffers on Thursday issued a petition calling for him to step down. Video Watch how Proenza lost the confidence of his staff »

The petition said the center's "effective functioning" is at stake as the Atlantic hurricane season heads toward its peak.

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"The undersigned staff ... has concluded that the center needs a new director, and with the heart of the hurricane season fast approaching, urges the Department of Commerce to make this happen as quickly as possible," said the petition, which was signed by twenty-three people, including four of five senior hurricane specialists.

Hurricane center staffers told CNN's John Zarella they were unhappy not only about his comments about the QuikSCAT, but also about the environment at the center -- one characterized by closed doors and the public airing of dirty laundry.

Proenza on Friday told CNN he had contacted his superiors in Washington about "ways to move forward," but added, "I am not going to resign."

Proenza told CNN he did not think the staff should dictate the leadership through "signing petitions."

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Proenza graduated from Florida State University with a degree in meteorology. He began his career in tropical meteorology in the mid-1960s at NHC and as a meteorologist on the "hurricane hunter" aircraft, according to his biography posted on the agency's Web site.

He continued within the National Weather Service for more than 35 years, "receiving numerous performance commendations and awards, including recognition from the NWS Employees' Organization as the NWS manager of the year for his collaborative leadership," the bio said. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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