Weather Authority visits National Hurricane Center ahead of storm season

Saturday starts the official beginning of hurricane season. While Southwest Florida didn’t experience a direct hit in 2018. Massive, category 5 Hurricane Michael slammed into the Panhandle. And it all happened during the first year on the job for Ken Graham, director of National Hurricane Center.

WINK News’ Weather Authority caught up with Graham NHC specialists in Miami Friday ahead of the official start of storm season.

Inside NHC, the main hub could easily be confused with NASA’s mission control. But this is where hurricane specialists will issue the best watches, warnings and forecasts for Southwest Florida.  

“Here at NHC, we look at all of the data available to us: satellite, surface and data aircraft,” said Michael Brennan, an NHC hurricane specialist. We take all of that data and knowledge of tropical cyclone and how they form and analyze it. From that, we get all of the hazard information from what is really affecting people: the storm surge, the wind, the flooding and the tornadoes.” 

Beyond the threats of wind and rain, Southwest Florida can be impacted by deadly storm surge.    

“When you close your eyes, what do you think when you see a hurricane?” Graham said. “Invariably, people say the wind. And if you look at the data, the wind is dangerous and can be deadly. But it’s water. The vast majority of fatalities is about the water.” 

Surge is when a tropical system pushes water from the Gulf of Mexico onshore.   

“Southwest Florida, in fact all of west Florida is one of the most vulnerable portions of our coast like for storm surge,” said Jamie Rhome, an NHC storm surge specialist. “You have to go a long ways offshore before the ocean really becomes deep. And that’s what creates the bigger storm surges on the west coast.” 

The undeniable truth that storm surge is the most dangerous threat is why Southwest Florida evacuation zones exist.  

Director Graham gets settled in his role after year one at NHC

NHC works directly with our Weather Authority to keep you safe when tropical weather threatens.

Director Ken Graham was appointed director of NHC in Miami in April 2018.

“Looking back on the 2018 season, looking back on hurricane Michael and Florence, just a busy season,” Graham said. “Not only the Atlantic, but the Pacific as well. I think for me I think it points to how far we’ve come with the forecast.”

Part of Graham’s mission is to keep improving the timeliness and accuracy of NHC forecasts.

“The track is getting extremely accurate,” Graham said. “We still have work to do with the intensity. So I think that is the next big thing. We are trying to put more emphasis on what we are missing, and I think a lot of it has to do with the oceans.”

Beyond improving forecast, Graham hopes NHC will continue as a vital link to effectively communicate that information to the public.

Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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