MIAMI — A 20-year veteran of the National Hurricane Center and already its deputy director, Ed Rappaport last year declined an opportunity to apply for the top job - the most prominent post in government meteorology.
He ended up with it anyway Monday, appointed as the center's interim director in the climax of an unprecedented, unseemly staff mutiny that cost Bill Proenza his job after a tenure so abbreviated it didn't include a single hurricane.
Superiors in Washington said Proenza's turbulent six-month reign threatened the hurricane center's ability "to protect the American people."
Current and former co-workers in South Florida said Rappaport's selection should calm public concerns about the capabilities - and staff stability - of the hurricane center. It already was proving popular with shaken scientists and others there.
"Ed Rappaport is somebody who is very qualified, and he will do everything in his power to unite everybody," said Lixion Avila, a senior hurricane forecaster.
Said Max Mayfield, who retired as director in January: "I think the majority of the staff worked with Ed long enough to know how committed he is, how hard working he is and how sincere he is.
"It's going to take a team effort to make this work now, but if anybody can do it, Ed can do it."
Rappaport, 49, has served largely in an administrative role since becoming deputy director in 2000 after many years as a highly regarded hurricane forecaster.
In recent years, he routinely consulted with front-line forecasters and became familiar to South Floridians as the center's evening voice during hurricane emergencies.
Rappaport declined to comment Monday, but often has emphasized the importance of open lines of communication.
"We all understand the importance of communicating this information to the public," he said when he accepted the deputy's post seven years ago.
Those skills are of high importance now, as Rappaport confronts several simultaneous challenges:
_He must find a way to bridge deep divisions and repair fractured morale at the center.
_He must restore public faith in the hurricane center and its forecasts.
_And, most importantly, he must focus the staff's attention on the tropics during a hurricane season that has been charitably mild so far but is expected to heat up soon.
"Ed certainly has the scientific respect of the staff and the ability to bring the staff together," said Brian Maher, a computer specialist at the hurricane center.
Last year, when Mayfield resigned, Rappaport surprised many at the hurricane center and their bosses at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration by declining to apply for the job. He said an illness in the family was dominating much of his time and was his top priority.
And so, in the end, NOAA selected Proenza, 62, a career forecaster and manager at the National Weather Service.
It didn't work out, and in record time.
In an e-mail to the center's staff, NOAA Administrator Conrad C. Lautenbacher Jr. said Monday that he had heard enough from a team he dispatched last week to conduct a snap inspection of the center and its leadership.
Lautenbacher wrote that he took action in response to the inspection team's "concern that, as expressed by many of you, there currently exists a level of anxiety and disruption that threatens the center's ability to perform its mission to protect the American people."
Though Proenza's future career status remained unclear Monday night, Lautenbacher did not mince words about Proenza's status at the hurricane center.
He said Proenza "will be on leave until further notice, which means that he will not be undertaking any official duties or performing any function in your chain of command."
Proenza, who spent the weekend with his family in Texas, did not return calls seeking comment.
His departure followed months of controversy, stirred largely by his attacks on superiors at NOAA.
He said they were squandering millions of dollars on a "bogus" NOAA 200th anniversary celebration (the agency was created in 1970, though several components are 200 years old) while hurricane researchers dealt with budget shortfalls and hurricane forecasters faced the eventual demise of an important satellite.
That satellite, called QuikSCAT, monitors winds over distant regions of the ocean and could fail at any time. No replacement is being built, though preliminary planning is under way.
Proenza frequently and passionately told audiences and reporters that the loss of QuikSCAT would diminish the accuracy of two-day forecasts by 10 percent and three-day forecasts by 16 percent.
Avila and other forecasters agreed that QuikScat was an important tool but disagreed about the consequences of its failure. They said its loss could be mitigated through other means and, in any event, would not significantly affect forecasts of landfalling hurricanes.
They worried that Proenza's statements were undermining public faith in their forecasts. Without that faith, they said, forecasts might be disregarded, leading to needless loss of life or property.
In addition, some staffers claimed that Proenza was tightly wound, difficult to work with and, at times, verbally abusive to some employees.
They seethed quietly for months, finally erupting last week after NOAA sent the inspection team.
By the end of last week, nearly half of Proenza's staff signed and issued a statement demanding his ouster.
"The effective functioning of the National Hurricane Center is at stake," said the statement, signed by seven hurricane forecasters and 16 other employees, including many staff scientists and Proenza's secretary.
His supporters at the hurricane center and elsewhere said the forecasters and other critics simply were chafing under a new, assertive, more forward-looking manager than they had experienced in the past.
In any case, Proenza's attacks on his superiors left him with precious little support in Washington, a factor that doomed his efforts to retain his job.