Ken Graham, director of the Hurricane Center, will lead the National Weather Service

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Ken Graham, who guided the National Hurricane Center through two record-breaking Atlantic hurricane seasons and the political storm known as SharpieGate, will become the next director of the National Weather Service.

Graham, whose selection was announced on Tuesday, heads the agency tasked with forecasting the country’s weather and how those conditions can threaten the lives and property of Americans at a critical time. Climate change is intensifying heat waves, fires, droughts and storms, increasing the costs from these extreme weather disasters. Last year, $20 billion weather disasters hit the lower 48 states, the second highest on record.

Rick Spinrad, who oversees the weather service as head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, introduced Graham as director at a news conference in Washington.

“Ken has the scientific integrity, trusted leadership and communication prowess that will take the National Weather Service to even greater heights,” Spinrad said. “I have full confidence that he will help create a more weather- and climate-ready nation in the midst of more extreme weather conditions fueled by our changing climate.”

Graham, a career civil servant who worked for the federal government for 28 years, will take over the Weather Service at a particularly difficult time. The agency must predict increasingly extreme weather conditions at a time when its flagship weather forecasting systems lag behind their European counterparts in computing power and accuracy, and when some of its computing infrastructure for dissemination of forecasts to the public are collapsing.

NOAA has also faced questions about the lack of racial and gender diversity in its workforce. Graham, who is white, succeeds Louis Uccellini, who retired in December after leading the agency for eight years.

Still, many in the weather community praised his selection.

“It’s great to see a new director who has a wealth of experience working with users to deliver vital weather services,” said Mary Glackin, who served as NOAA’s deputy assistant secretary from 2007 to 2012, in an email. “And, Ken understands the impacts of our changing climate and how it manifests in more extreme weather events.”

Leslie Chapman-Henderson, president of the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, said Graham has worked to innovate at the “National Hurricane Center, even during some of our nation’s toughest times.”

A stabilizing force: the director of the outgoing weather service reflects on tenure

The Hurricane Center has improved its accuracy measurements of hurricane track and intensity forecasts under Graham, setting records even as every hurricane season since 2018 has been busier than normal. The 2020 and 2021 seasons produced the most and third-most named storms on record, respectively.

Despite the onslaught, improved forecasts, warnings and communication tools developed at the Hurricane Center contributed to a sharp decline in the number of deaths from storm surges, which had previously been one of the most common hurricane hazards. more deadly.

When storms such as Category 5 Hurricane Michael in 2018 and Category 4 hurricanes Laura and Ida hit the coast, Graham played a key role in advising the White House, state and local government officials , emergency officials, broadcast media and the public.

“Ken’s extensive experience in weather forecasting and, more importantly, in translating weather forecasts into actionable decision points for emergency managers across the country has and will continue to save lives,” said the FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, who worked with Graham in her current job. as well as when she headed the New York City Emergency Management Department, in an email.

In one of the biggest weather controversies of Donald Trump’s time in the White House, when Trump altered a Hurricane Center tracking map with black marker in 2019 to support his mistaken accusation that Hurricane Dorian was threatening the Alabama, Graham sought to uphold his agency’s scientific integrity behind the scenes.

Even though Trump’s tweet and amended map were wrong, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — facing political pressure from White House and Commerce Department appointees — released an unsigned statement supporting the president contradicting the office. from the Birmingham Weather Service that the storm was not a problem. danger.

NOAA’s actions infuriated members of the public, many of whom emailed the Hurricane Center saying it could no longer be trusted.

In response, Graham pleaded with Weather Service leaders to craft a response signaling that science warnings from federal officials would not be compromised.

“The biggest request we receive are emails simply asking for assurances that we are science-based as always,” Graham wrote to Mary Erickson, deputy director of the weather service, in an email posted under freedom of information law. “Look for nothing but [to provide] assurance ‘we have not changed.’ ”

Hurricane Dorian emails show how tenuous scientific credibility was in the Trump era

But Graham kept a low profile during the Sharpiegate. His name does not appear in the Commerce Department’s 107-page inspector general’s review of the scandal that chastised Commerce Department appointees for siding with President Trump over service forecasters meteorological.

Prior to coming to the Hurricane Center, Graham was the meteorologist in charge of the weather service office serving New Orleans, where he led the agency’s response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster. He began his Weather Service career as an intern in New Orleans in 1994 and worked in broadcast weather before that.

Graham is a “fantastic choice” to lead the agency, said Neil Jacobs, who served as acting NOAA administrator under Trump. “From forecasting work in the field to advancing [the Hurricane Center’s] mission over several challenging seasons, Ken has the perfect balance of leadership skills, operational experience and support from the emergency management community.

Uccellini described Graham’s selection in an email as “great news for the National Weather Service, NOAA and the Nation.”

Jamie Rhome, assistant manager of the Hurricane Center, will fill Graham’s old position on an interim basis until a new permanent manager is appointed.

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