DUCK, N.C. (CBS Local) — A leading government meteorologist who headed the national center that tracks ocean, hurricane and space conditions, died Monday in rough seas on North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

Dr. William Lapenta, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Prediction, died Monday while swimming at a Duck beach, CBS affiliate WTKR reported.

The exact factors that caused Lapenta’s death are unknown, but the National Weather Service had warned earlier Monday about the area’s high risk of rip currents, a beach phenomenon that can pull swimmers out to sea.

According to the Town of Duck, emergency services were called to the Pelican Way beach access at 4:22 p.m. Lifeguards on patrol responded within minutes of the call, and Lapenta, 58, was pulled from the water.

Duck Surf Rescue, Duck Fire and Police and Dare County EMS initiated CPR and other life-saving measures immediately, but Lapenta was pronounced dead at the scene.

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

Lapenta worked at NASA for 20 years before arriving at NOAA in 2008, according to his profile on the National Weather Service’s website.