Q & A for NHC - Ed Rappaport
National Hurricane Center
You have to be the hardest working person at NHC today.
Public Affairs Officer
NOAA Communications & External Affairs
National Hurricane Center
The Hurricane Center has many talented and hardworking people. We're loyal
and that dedication often leads to long hours. I've been surrounded through
the years by very, very bright people and have learned I need to work hard
and long to keep up and make my contribution.
Where does that dedication come from?
It's a combination of being a type A personality and being focused on
work directed toward our mission of helping people be safe. We're
professionals with a variety of specializations who share concerns for
the well-being of the people who use our products and
services. For many of us our work represents more than a job;
it a career of public service... our version of the Peace Corps or
military service. This is our way of contributing to the nation, and to
international communities as well.
It had to begin with an interest in meteorology at a young age.
Like many of us here who gravitated toward meteorology, I have a story about
how this interest was recognized. I was born in Los Angeles. My parents
tell me that, when I was the age of three, they found me with my elbows
propped up on the window sill watching a stormy day outside. I guess I was
learning at an early age that "It never rains in Southern California, it pours,
man it pours." That fascinated me. I didn't know it at the time, but I was
destined for a career in meteorology. I got lucky in that I had enough math and
science skills to get through the tough coursework in college.
I attended three different schools. I went to community college in California
and then transferred to the University of Washington where I finished a Bachelors
Degree and Masters Degree in Atmospheric Sciences, and then completed Ph.D. work
at Texas Tech University. I spent 28 straight years in school, in part because,
as on the job, I needed to put in extra time to keep up with the Joneses, Einsteins,
and others who had more natural ability.
How did you get here?
My arrival at the hurricane center had some twists and turns, and maybe a bit of
serendipity, too. When I was a junior at the University of Washington, one of the
professors in the atmospheric sciences department invited me to work with him and
others on a research grant to analyze storms in the eastern tropical Atlantic Ocean
that were observed during the GATE project. I jumped at the opportunity. That was
the event that pointed me toward tropical meteorology, without which I don't know
which area of the field I would have entered.
What's the serendipitous part?
I got to know this professor quite well and he wound up being my thesis advisor.
We learned that his invitation to work with him was a mistake. He had intended to
invite the top student in the class to work on the project. He got me confused
with that student and invited me instead. But it worked out well, at least for
Any other turn of events?
While I was finishing my Ph.D. work in Texas, I came to South Florida and gave a
talk as part of an interview with the Hurricane Research Division. My seminar must
not have been considered anything special as HRD did not offer me a position. But,
again, I had a little luck. Bob Sheets was then working at NHC and had intended to
go to my seminar. While he didn't make it to the talk, yet he offered to me a
position at the hurricane center. So, I guess I should be grateful that he didn't
attend my seminar.
What did you get hired to do?
I came in as part of a post-doc program with the University Corporation for
Atmospheric Research (UCAR). It was a one year position, with a second year renewal
option. Midway through the first year, one of the staff members here retired.
Thinking back now, more good luck. I had been here long enough that the NHC leaders
had learned enough about me to offer me the position, but not long enough where I had
already committed to go somewhere else. So I went from being a post-doc into the
Techniques Development and Application Unit, which is now part of our Technology
and Science Branch (TSB). That was the second of seven or eight positions I have held here.
Is there a position in the building that you have not worked?
There are very few. I started as a post-doc, I worked in the Techniques Development
and Application Unit for three years, then I was in a split position for two years with
the hurricane specialists during the hurricane season, and an operational position during
the offseason in what is now the Tropical Analysis and Forecast Branch (TAFB). Then I held
what is now the senior hurricane specialist position for seven years. Following that, I
was the warning coordination meteorologist for about a month before heading back to the
TSB for two years as its chief.
I have to believe you enjoy providing the technical guidance to the center.
Yes, there were several positives and challenges that drew me to the TSB position. One that
qualified as both was that it was my first management position here. Having worked in that
branch before, I was still familiar with the work that went on there.
You had positions in all three branches of NHC.
Yes, TAFB, TSB and the Hurricane Specialist Unit. It was then off to the front office when
I was selected as the Deputy Director of NHC in 2000. Max Mayfield was the Director at that
You've been acting director several times.
One of the primary responsibilities of deputy director is to serve as backup for the director.
The director has a difficult job in many ways. One of those components is that he or she is
the leader and face of the outreach program, which puts them on the road for several months
during each offseason, about one third of the year. When the director is away, the deputy
director remains here, and we hold to that in almost all circumstances. So that means that
about a third of the time for the past ten years I have been the acting director. There was
also an occasion in 2007 where we had a vacancy in the director position and I was acting
director for seven months.
Would you ever want to have the job permanently?
The responsibilities are immense and, to date, the circumstances have not been right for me to
be the director full time. But I will consider it the next time the opportunity arises. For
such a critical position, one which has such important responsibilities, great visibility,
many challenges and the long periods of travel, everything has to be aligned right within your
professional and personal life to make the commitment that is required to do the job well.
You mentioned the personal commitment. Family is very important to you.
Thank you. Yes, it is. I am very proud of my wife and children. My wife has an important position
as the president and CEO of a South Florida credit union...and of our home...where I am also
deputy director. My daughter is in high school and my son is in junior high. Proper parenting
requires a lot of attention, so that's a major part of my life. I've seen the kinds of challenges
the previous directors have faced and those include being away from the family for extended periods
of time. Even while in town, there are many pressures and draws that can take up the director's time
outside of normal business hours. There are a lot of media demands and, as head of the organization,
you are always on call here, too. There are also the interests and needs of the hierarchy at
headquarters whereby you could be called to Washington, D.C. or other places, or need to be otherwise
responsive very quickly.
NHC has a very good relationship with the media. In this 24/7 news cycle, is there anything that concerns you about it?
For decades, the media has been a very close partner of the National Hurricane Center. We rely
heavily on the media to help get the word out. While we have made significant advances in our
forecast abilities and how we communicate about storms in education and outreach, we are still not
nearly as effective as we need to be. The case of Hurricane Katrina provides a good but sad example
In what way?
Over the final two to three days before landfall on the Gulf coast, the forecasts from the National
Hurricane Center and the local weather forecast offices were excellent, not only in terms of accuracy
but also in terms of highlighting the enormity of the threat-- what was warned to be a potentially
catastrophic storm. Yet the message was not completely effective. We lost more than a thousand people
in Katrina. While a large number of those deaths occurred in association with levee problems in New Orleans
that were not expected, several hundred lives were lost in Mississippi due to the storm surge along the
coast--where we would have thought the message was clear and timely. It's disheartening because while we
did our best, there were still so many lives lost. It tells me we have not yet found the optimal way of
communicating the risk.
Is social media a possibility?
It is certainly an option, but we need to know more about what is required to get an effective public
response to the threat of a hurricane. There are sociological and science factors involved. It's hard
to accurately forecast what the weather will do. It's harder to accurately forecast what people will do.
We need to keep working to learn more about both processes.
How do you turn it all off when you leave here?
It is difficult to turn it off completely, in part because we are a 24 by 7 hour operation with important
responsibilities. Of course, as was evident by the time I was three years old, some of what we do here
comes naturally to me and provides me enjoyment. With the weather, you get round-the-clock opportunities
for job and personal satisfaction.
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