Interview: New NWS Director Ken Graham Speaks With WeatherNation

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27 Jan 2023 8:00 AM

In 2022, Ken Graham was selected as the newest director of the National Weather Service after leading the National Hurricane Center. Ken has been busy in his first year as NWS Director and we had the chance to catch up with him at the annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society. Scroll down for our video story with Ken. Here is the Q & A transcript from that interaction!

WeatherNation: Happy New Year! In 2023, what are some of your (NWS) resolutions and goals?

Ken: “It’s been amazing so far, several months into the job. Going forward, we’re looking at a more nimble, flexible, and mobile NWS that is eye-to-eye with decision makers. I’m excited about that. Looking at 2023, I really want to be on the front lines more than ever to help with these tough decisions because it’s getting busier and busier.”

WeatherNation:  Can you explain being on the front lines?

Ken: “Over the years we’ve done a great job deploying to emergency management centers and have been on the front lines with our incident meteorologists fighting fires. We’re going to try to do that more. We are going to try to look at our parties in the NWS and narrow those down, focus on the mission, and really enable all of our forecasters to have the tools that they have in the office, and get those emergency operations center and on the front lines, help with those tough decisions.”

WeatherNation: After we had 18 separate billion-dollar disasters in 2022, what can we do to limit the loss of life and costly damages this year?

Ken: “It is interesting to look at 18 different billion-dollar weather events and that is increasing too. We seem to be setting records all the time with some of these things and it’s pretty consistent with the changing climate. We get these extreme events, we get these longer droughts that are interrupted by big floods, and that’s pretty consistent with the changing climate. So going forward, we have to accept that this is the way it seems to be and it’s probably not going to change. So how do we get ready for that? We need the public’s help. What used to happen, doesn’t mean that’s the way it’s going to happen in the future. So you can’t compare the past. We can’t compare the previous storm. So we’ve got to be ready and we’ve got to be prepared. We have to have a perception of that risk and then mitigate that risk in our own plans, but we need everybody’s help in order to do that.”

WeatherNation: What other individual actions can people take to stay safe this year?

Ken: “One of the biggest things is to make sure you have the information that you need. Look at how far forecasting has come, the modeling, and the NWS forecasts. The forecasts are getting very, very good. We need help with people understanding the information. Lean that ahead of time. Don’t learn that during a storm because it’s stressful enough. Have that plan, have a way to get that information, and if you live in a flood zone area, have a safe place. We need everybody to be proactive with how they’re able to protect themselves and their families. Here’s a big thing: If you don’t know, ask! We have emergency managers wanting to help, we have all sorts of people at the NWS willing to help, everybody in the media, we’re all here to help. If you have questions about it, ask!”

WeatherNation: What are ways families can prepare for severe weather by making it a game, or fun?

Ken: Make a mock scenario. Learning differently is big. We have repetitive messages and we do it all the time, but we’re still losing people in that last mile. It comes down to a good forecast, good communications, and these things are converted to impacts, but people are still dying. Why? It becomes a behavioral science issue. It becomes an issue of risk perception. How do we combat that? We teach differently! Maybe it’s a game. Maybe it’s a different way to communicate. Maybe we have to communicate in churches or underrepresented communities because if you look at the data, every time we have a big storm it’s the underrepresented groups that are losing their life the most. It’s the elderly, the economically challenged that don’t have a means of getting a hotel to evacuate. We have to talk about that more and as an entire weather enterprise, we have to make sure we get into those vulnerable communities, get them the information that they need, then we’re going to save more lives than ever.

WeatherNation: This is a new role for you. Are there any things your most proud of accomplishing yet?

Ken: “I think the biggest thing is that I leaped out with the vision for the National Weather Service. Think about going out quickly and saying we’re going to be more nimble, we’re going to be more flexible, we’re going to be more mobile than ever. It’s huge! And we have other things going on, such as priorities I set forth for our people, our infrastructure, and our future. I have a “Ken’s Ten” list of priorities that we’re really trying to focus on, real mission items to shore up to protect lives. I’m so proud of that. The biggest thing is, I can’t even describe how humble I am to serve the people of the National Weather Service. I get really humble thinking about the NWS 24/7 operations, they’re always there, they work so hard and they’re so passionate and I’m the one who’s able to serve them.”

WeatherNation: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Ken: I think as we get into 2023, we’re on this pace to have more severe events, more floods, more winter events, more hurricanes, and together we have to figure out how to get information to those who need it the most. We’re working on it to be language, accessibility, our website. We are going to improve our website, make it lighter, and more accessible to everybody. We are going to have tools for our forecasters to do anything in the office, anywhere. So we are getting ready for the next big storm, and I really ask everyone to get ready themselves because we’re trying, but we need your help to truly save lives.”

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