As much of Long Island digs out from under nearly 3 feet of snow, the National Weather Service on Sunday named a Bethpage native as its new director.
Louis W. Uccellini became the weather service's 16th director Sunday and in a phone interview heralded its scientists for accurately predicting the path of the blizzard and providing potentially lifesaving information to the public in advance of extreme weather.
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"We believe very strongly we are saving lives," said Uccellini, a 1967 graduate of Bethpage High School. "We can really predict the potential for these extreme events six, seven, eight days in advance, and that's a very important lead time for people."
He added, "I think we're being cited as doing a very good job on this storm just as we did on Sandy. Many of these forecasters stayed in the office all night. They didn't go home. They worked through the storm to get things right and it really is an honor to be the leader of these dedicated people."
Uccellini, who began his weather career in 1978, joined the weather service as chief of its meteorological operations division in 1989, and in 1994 became director of the Office of Meteorology.
Since 1999, he has led the service's National Centers for Environmental Prediction. He received his bachelor's, master's and doctorate from the University of Wisconsin.
His interest in the vagaries of weather began as a child, he said. He remembered fondly the winter of 1960 and '61, during which three massive snowstorms "crushed" Long Island, he said.
"I did find it ironic . . . that I was actually announced for this position when we were forecasting a major blizzard for my hometown," said Uccellini, 63, who lives in Columbia, Md., with his wife and three children.
In a statement, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration administrator Jane Lubchenco said, "Louis' leadership within the National Weather Service and his relationship with the U.S. and international weather enterprise allow him to effectively steer the agency forward."
FEMA administrator Craig Fugate said he looked forward to continuing to collaborate with Uccellini "to save lives and protect property."