Rick Knabb, a veteran tropical forecaster, takes the helm at the National Hurricane Center.

Rick Knabb, a veteran tropical forecaster, takes the helm at the National Hurricane Center. (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration / May 18, 2012)

Rick Knabb, a veteran tropical forecaster and most recently The Weather Channel’s hurricane expert, has been named director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami-Dade County. He replaces Bill Read, who is retiring as of June 1.

“For as long as I can remember, it was a job I had seen as a career goal,” Knabb said during a news conference in Atlanta on Friday. “I go into this job with eyes open, I know what I'm getting into.”

Knabb, 43, becomes the 10th center director since the position was created in 1965 and one of the youngest; only Neil Frank, who served in the 1970s and 1980s, was younger.

Weather officials say Knabb offers a clear voice and sound knowledge of tropical meteorology, important prerequisites considering the hurricane center director makes frequent television appearances when storms threaten.

“Rick personifies that calm, clear and trusted voice that the nation has come to rely on," said Jane Lubchenco, the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who confirmed Knabb’s selection.

If the experts are right, Knabb’s first season at the center’s chief should be relatively slow. Forecasters predict an average or below-average number of storms and hurricanes because the Atlantic has cooled and El Niño, the atmospheric pattern that suppresses hurricanes, might develop over the summer.   

Among the other candidates was Mark DeMaria, a research scientist with NOAA's Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service in Fort Collins, Colo.

Knabb said as director, he hopes to see forecasts improve, notably intensity predictions, an area where the hurricane center has struggled for decades.

“Forecasting intensity is probably the biggest challenge we face,” he said. “It's not a problem we’ll solve overnight or even in a year. But I am optimistic we will see improvement.”

Born in Chicago, raised in Coral Springs, Knabb spent eight years with the hurricane center, first as its science and operations officer from 2001-2005 and then as a hurricane specialist from 2005 to 2008.

During the tumultuous 2005 season, he developed forecasts for Hurricanes Dennis, Emily, Katrina, Rita and Wilma, all major systems that struck land.

He also signed off on the advisory announcing that Katrina had become a major hurricane over the Gulf of Mexico, before it devastated New Orleans.

Knabb applied to be hurricane center chief when then-director Max Mayfield announced his retirement in 2006. NOAA instead selected Bill Proenza, who was removed in July 2007, after his staff rebelled against him. 

Knabb subsequently was named deputy director and director of operations of the Central Pacific Hurricane Center and National Weather Service forecast office in Honolulu before joining The Weather Channel in April 2010.

Knabb said he left the hurricane center because “I wanted to diversify my exposure to the National Weather Service experience.” He said he is confident he returns to a hurricane center staff that is focused and “highly motivated.”

Mayfield called a Knabb an “excellent” selection because of his past experience and because he's a “team player.”

“He certainly has proven himself by writing countless advisories as a senior hurricane specialist during the 2005 season,” Mayfield said Friday. “He's had management experience and, most recently, he's done a superb job at The Weather Channel.”

The author of numerous works in scientific journals Knabb received his Ph.D and master’s degrees in meteorology from Florida State University.

“We all have to prepare,” he said, “because you never know when the next one will come.”