Meteorologist drowns swimming in rough surf in spite of weather alert from employer

DaveAlan/iStpock(DUCK, N.C.) — A high-ranking government meteorologist who oversaw nine key National Weather Service (NWS) offices drowned after swimming in rough surf near the beach town of Duck, North Carolina.

William Lapenta, 58, was swimming in the Sanderling area in Duck Monday when emergency services were called to the scene for a swimmer that was no longer visible from the beach, according to a statement released by Duck local authorities.

“An ocean rescue supervisor who was off duty but in the area saw what he thought to be a swimmer in distress and alerted emergency services. Lifeguards on patrol responded within minutes upon receiving the call and pulled an unresponsive 58-year-old male from the water,” said the Town of Duck statement.

The man was then pulled from the ocean and life-saving measures were performed unsuccessfully on him. He was declared dead on the scene.

“While the exact factors that caused the death are unknown, Monday’s surf conditions and a rip current in the area were likely a factor,” said Duck authorities.

Lapenta had served as the director of the National Centers for Environmental Prediction and oversaw other NWS offices including the National Hurricane Center, the Storm Prediction Center, and the Climate Prediction Center, according to his NWS biography.

“I am deeply saddened to learn about the loss of my friend and colleague, Bill Lapenta. Bill was a brilliant scientist and mentor to many. He will be missed by all of us,” said National Weather Service Director Louis Uccellini in a tweet.

According to, the NWS had issued a beach hazards statement for Eastern Carolina beaches during the time that Lapenta was swimming meaning that there were allegedly rip currents and swells between 4 to 7 feet.

Lapenta had worked for the NWS since 2008 but previously spent 20 years working at NASA where he worked as the Deputy manager of the Science and Exploration Research Office which was responsible for all research and development activities related to space science, earth science and space optics, according to his NWS biography.

Lapenta’s death was the second one in the area this week after a 75-year-old man died just two days before while swimming off the coast of Hatteras Village without wearing a flotation device, according to OBX Today.

Originally from Nyack, New York, Lapenta leaves behind his wife Cathy and two adult children.

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