At the National Tropical Weather Conference in South Padre Island, Texas on Friday, Ken Graham was awarded with the 2023 Robert and Joanne Simpson Award. The award is presented to individuals who have been “outstanding in actively working to further the science of tropical meteorology.” The National Tropical Weather Conference, considered the premier hurricane conference in the U.S., awards several honors each year at their event.
Graham is no stranger to the world of weather, especially tropical weather. He worked his way up through the ranks at the National Weather Service (NWS), mostly in field offices, starting at the ground level as a meteorology intern in 1994 at the weather forecast office in New Orleans. Before joining the National Hurricane Center, Graham served as the meteorologist-in-charge of the NWS New Orleans/Baton Rouge office for 10 years. He notably established two command centers in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 that provided forecasts to help authorities make critical decisions in the five months following the spill. Graham also led the effort to support decision makers in Louisiana and Mississippi with services focused on expected impacts for hurricanes Gustav, Ike, Isaac, and during the historic 2017 season.
Prior to leading the New Orleans/Baton Rouge forecast office, Graham served as the systems operations division chief at NWS’ Southern Region headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas, where he led Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts. He also served as the meteorological service chief at NWS headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, and was the meteorologist-in-charge at the local forecast offices in Birmingham, Alabama, and Corpus Christi, Texas.
In April 2018 Graham was tasked to lead the National Hurricane Center, leading the nation through numerous hurricanes, including 30 named storms during the record-breaking 2020 hurricane season.
At the start of the 2022 Atlantic Hurricane Season in June, Graham was named the Director of the National Weather Service following the retirement of the former director, Louis Uccellini. Jaime Rhome, a Deputy Director, was made Acting Director. Last Monday, it was announced that Mike Brennan would lead the National Hurricane Center, allowing Rhome to return to his role as Deputy Director.
“Ken has the scientific integrity, trusted leadership, and communication prowess that will take the National Weather Service to even greater heights,” said NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad, Ph.D. at the time of Graham’s latest appointment. “I have full confidence that he will help create a more weather- and climate-ready nation amid more extreme weather fueled by our changing climate.”
Graham accepted his award during a video call on the last evening of the National Tropical Weather Conference in South Padre Island, Texas. While he was unable to attend the 2023 conference in-person this year, he has attended the last several years, representing the National Hurricane Center there. During the presentation of the award, Graham described the National Tropical Weather Conference as one of his favorite weather conferences.
The award is named in honor of Robert and Joanne Simpson, famous meteorologists who were dedicated to tropical weather. Robert Homer Simpson was the first director of the National Hurricane Research Project (NHRP) from 1955–1959 and the Director of the National Hurricane Center from 1967–1974.) He is perhaps most famous for the hurricane scale that carries his name and the scale’s co-developer, Herbert Saffir: the Saffir-Simpson Scale. His wife Joanne Simpson had an equally impressive career; as the first woman in the United States to receive a Ph.D. in meteorology,she taught and researched meteorology at numerous universities as well as the federal government. Joanne Simpson contributed to many areas of the atmospheric sciences, particularly in the field of tropical meteorology. She has researched hot towers, hurricanes, the trade winds, air-sea interactions, and helped develop the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) which is used to analyze precipitation from these potent storms.