WASHINGTON – A meteorologist who oversaw warnings and forecasts during one of the busiest spurts of Atlantic hurricane activity on record will take over as the new director of the National Weather Service, as scientists expect extreme and dangerous storms and heatwaves to worsen with climate change.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Tuesday named National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham the overall boss of the weather service, succeeding winter storm expert Louis Uccellini, who retired as of January 1. During Graham’s four years as hurricane center chief there have been more named Atlantic storms, 101, than in any other four-year period since 1851, according to Colorado State University records.
After starting as intern, Graham, 53, also headed the weather service’s offices in Corpus Christi, Texas, and Birmingham, Alabama. He also was a television meteorologist in Mississippi.
In a Tuesday press conference, Graham emphasized not just the science of more accurate forecasts, but making them easier to get and understand for the public to help people avoid danger.
“A perfect forecast doesn't do much good unless the word gets out,” Graham said.
Graham recalled his brief time as a 24-year-old television weatherman when he went live on air to talk about a tornado and got a call from a family in a mobile home in the twister's path. He told them to get out. Later they called him off air and thanked him saying “we're alive and our home is gone.”
In a May interview, Graham said, “almost 28 years in the weather service, I've seen a lot of damage. A lot of people lose everything, a lot of loss of life.”
The U.S. National Climate Assessment in 2018 said warming-charged extremes “have already become more frequent, intense, widespread or of long duration" and will only get worse.
Several outside meteorologists praised the pick, with University of Albany atmospheric scientist Kristen Corbosiero saying Graham's experience with storms and operational forecasting will benefit the weather service “as weather extremes only continue to increase in number as the climate continues to warm.”
National Hurricane Center Deputy Director Jamie Rhome will take over Graham's former role as acting director.
Follow AP’s climate coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/climate
Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter at @borenbears
Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.