June 18, 2024

Briefing the president of the United States and flying into hurricanes seems like the work of James Bond. But for former student Bill Read ’71 ’76, such tasks were simply part of the job throughout his eventful meteorology career that spanned the Navy, the National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center.

Growing up, Read remembers watching the storms roll in through the window of his childhood home, especially the Ash Wednesday Storm of 1962, which caused major flooding in his home state of Delaware. In addition to its destruction, the floods caused a massive insurance lawsuit, one in which Read’s father was chosen for jury duty—and it changed Read’s life.

Two years and 1,000 operational flight hours later, Read was reassigned to Iceland before landing back in the fairer weather of Kingsville, Texas, to be the officer in charge of a weather detachment. It was in Kingsville that another life-changing event occurred—he met his future wife, Donna. And on a special week in December 1976, Read received two masters. “I got my master's in meteorology on Dec. 22, and I got my other “master” on Dec. 18 when Donna and I got married,” Read joked. Soon after, he landed a monumental job with the National Weather Service as a forecaster.

“The gist of the weather service is that if you want to be promoted, you have to move,” Read said. This led the couple to stops in Dulles, Virginia; San Antonio; Fort Worth and the weather service headquarters in Washington, D.C., where he got to observe the development of the Doppler Radar. Then in 1992, he accepted a dream job as a meteorologist in charge of the Houston-Galveston weather forecast office. Despite encountering tornadoes, floods and freezes, Read said his proudest accomplishment at the Houston office was co-locating the forecast office with the Galveston County Emergency Operations Center for greater collaboration between agencies. Both offices are adjacent to each other on the second floor of a building designed to handle 170-mile-per-hour wind. “Even today, I don’t know if any other office has been able to pull that off,” Read explained.

Excuse Me, Mr. President

After 15 years at the Houston-Galveston Office, Read was selected to be the Director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida. As director, he got to witness action inside the Situation Room and conduct virtual briefings with Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama during his tenure.

“For me, it’s important to give some of my time and experience to Texas A&M for the foundation it gave me for my career. I couldn’t be more grateful.”
-Bill Read '71

His most memorable experience came during Hurricane Ike in 2008, when he briefed President Bush several times. “I was trained to do a very short and succinct briefing,” Read remembered. "After Hurricane Ike made landfall, the only question President Bush asked me was, ‘How do you think the port of Houston and the ship channel industries fared?’” Having lived in Houston the past 15 years, I knew what the port could withstand and told him it should be just fine.” 

After briefing President Obama about the hurricane risk after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, the former president acknowledged the difficult work Read had done over the years, commenting that he certainly “has a hard job.” Read’s response: “Not nearly as hard as yours, sir.” 

Still forecasting from his recliner, Read—who has been enjoying retirement since 2012—is thankful for all of his unexpected-turned-unbelievable career experiences and sums up his journey with the Rolling Stones line: “You can’t always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need.” 

Read has continued the connection he formed with Texas A&M by proudly giving back to the university. Paying it forward through his service and valuable resource of experience, he has volunteered for several university advisory boards including the former College of Geosciences Advisory Board and the Atmospheric Sciences Advisory Board. “For me, it’s important to give some of my time and experience to Texas A&M for the foundation it gave me for my career,” Read explained. “I couldn’t be more grateful.” 

To help aspiring meteorologists like Read weather their storms, contact Karen Cochran below to learn more about how your generosity can make an impact at Texas A&M.