A career meteorologist who earned his chops along the busy Gulf Coast was named the new chief of the National Hurricane Center in Miami Thursday, filling a vacancy created when former director Rick Knabb departed just before last year’s brutal season.
Kenneth Graham will assume his new post on April 1, two months before the 2018 season officially begins.
For the last decade, Graham has been the meteorologist-in-charge of the National Weather Service’s New Orleans and Baton Rouge office. He helped provide local forecasts during last year’s frantic season, which produced 17 named storms, along with Hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2008 and Isaac in 2012.
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In 2010, when BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killing 11 workers and spewing 3 million barrels of oil over 87 days, Graham established two command centers. Forecasts from the centers helped guide cleanup efforts for five months, according to a statement from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees the hurricane center.
“Ken has a long history of providing dependable [decisions] in all positions in which he has served,” National Weather Service Director Louis Uccellini said in a statement announcing the news to agency employees. “His reputation among his colleagues and across the weather, water, and climate enterprise is unparalleled.”
Graham becomes the fifth director to fill the high-pressure job since Max Mayfield departed in 2007 after seven years. The center has had 10 directors since it was created 53 years ago. For the last year, and through 2017’s hectic season, Deputy Director Ed Rappaport ran the agency.
Before taking over in New Orleans, Graham was the systems operations chief at the weather service’s southern regional headquarters in Fort Worth, which serves as a communications hub for the agency’s southern operations. There, he helped lead recovery efforts after Hurricane Katrina, which left more than 1,800 dead and caused $108 billion in damage after a catastrophic landfall in Louisiana and Mississippi. Graham also served as the meteorological service chief at the weather service’s headquarters in Maryland and was meteorologist-in-charge of local forecast offices in Birmingham, Alabama, and Corpus Christi, Texas.
Graham started with NOAA in 1994, working in the Slidell, Louisiana, offices in 1995 when heavy rain triggered widespread flooding that caused $3 billion in damage. Before that, Graham worked as a TV weatherman in Mississippi.
“This is an exciting time to work for the National Weather Service, and I look forward to the important work ahead in effort to keep our communities safe from the various threats posed by hurricanes,” Graham said in a statement.
He has a bachelor’s degree in atmospheric science from the University of Arizona and a master’s in geoscience from Mississippi State. Rappaport, who was named acting director after Knabb’s departure, will resume his position as deputy director.
Follow Jenny Staletovich on Twitter @jenstaletovich