A top weather forecasting official, who oversaw the government’s prediction centers that track ocean, hurricane and even space conditions, has died in rough seas on North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
William Lapenta, 58, died Monday after lifeguards pulled him from the surf off the coastal town of Duck, local officials said. The National Weather Service had issued a warning earlier Monday about the area’s high risk of rip currents, a beach phenomenon that can pull swimmers out to sea.
Lapenta was swimming alone and it’s not clear if he’d been caught by a rip current, town spokeswoman Christian Legner said Wednesday. Lifeguards pulled Lapenta to shore, but responding emergency medical workers said he was dead at the scene, Legner said. While the specific reason he ran into trouble isn’t known, Monday’s surf conditions were likely a factor, Legner said.
The weather service has recorded seven previous deaths in rip currents in North Carolina this year, among 41 nationwide.
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Lapenta was director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Prediction, which issues forecasts and warnings for aviation, ocean, storm and climate conditions in U.S. territories and beyond. Lapenta led NOAA’s efforts to develop enhanced weather prediction methods by allowing outside scientists virtual access to help improve government models, National Weather Service Director Louis Uccellini said in a statement.
“Bill Lapenta was a friend to us all. He was a brilliant scientist, a leader in weather modeling, an amazing partner and collaborator, an energetic mentor, and a devoted husband and father,” Uccellini said.
Lapenta, a native of Nyack, New York, lived in northern Virginia with his wife, Cathy, who is also a meteorologist, according to his weather service biography.