National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

Date Posted: June 29, 2017

Leading the National Hurricane Center
Leading the National Hurricane Center

During the coming months, NOAA will be undertaking a national search to find its next director of the National Hurricane Center (NHC). The prospect got us to thinking about how the position of director came into being. It turns out, it’s only been around since the 1940s. In a fascinating paper written by former NHC Director Dr. Bob Sheets, the seeds were planted in 1943. That year, the primary hurricane forecast office at Jacksonville, Fla., and its meteorologist-in charge Grady Norton were moved to Miami. Sheets wrote that Grady had “an extraordinary ability to communicate with residents along the coast”, and remained in charge of the hurricane forecast center and the U.S. Weather Bureau’s Miami office until his passing in 1954 during Hurricane Hazel. Grady was succeeded by Gordon Dunn, who had worked with Norton in Jacksonville and moved on to be the meteorologist-in-charge of the U.S. Weather Bureau office in Chicago. In 1955, the Miami forecast office was officially designated as the National Hurricane Center with Dunn holding the official title of its director. But most people, including Dunn himself, recognize the first director as being Norton.

Nine more directors would follow Dunn – Dr. Robert Simpson (1967-1973), Dr. Neil Frank (1974-1987), Dr. Bob Sheets (1988-1994), Dr. Robert Burpee (1995-1996), Jerry Jarrell (1996-2000), Max Mayfield (2000-2006), Bill Proenza (2007), Bill Read (2008-2012) and Dr. Rick Knabb (2012-2017).  Through their combined leadership, NHC evolved into the premiere operational hurricane forecasting unit with a continuing vision to be America's calm, clear and trusted voice in the eye of the storm, and, with its partners, enable communities to be safe from tropical weather threats.

Some of the past directors of the National Hurricane Center at a past Hurricane Conference in New Orleans, LA.

Some of the past directors of the National Hurricane Center at a past Hurricane Conference in New Orleans, LA. From left, Brian Jarvinen (former NHC storm surge program leader and SLOSH model expert), Max Mayfield (Director, 2000-2006), Jerry Jarrell (Director, 1996-2000), Billy Wagner (emeritus Monroe County, Florida, Director of Emergency Management), the late Robert Burpee (Director, 1995-1996), Robert Sheets (Director, 1987-1995), Neil Frank (Director, 1974-1987), the late Robert Simpson (Director, 1967-1973), and the late Herbert Saffir (engineer and co-creator of the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale).

Until a permanent director is selected, Dr. Ed Rappaport is the acting NHC director for the 2017 hurricane season. He has more than 30 years of experience at NHC and has often served before in that capacity.  

Click Here for a detailed look into the history of the National Hurricane Center, and National Weather Service in Miami, FL.

Media contact:

Dennis Feltgen

NOAA Communications & External Affairs

National Hurricane Center

Miami, Fla.