Weekly Interview: Fred Johnson

Weekly Interview: Fred Johnson

Meteorologist-in-Charge, Key West National Weather Service

According to Key West’s chief meteorologist, other severe weather does not compare to the intensity of a hurricane.

Johnson has spent nearly three decades with the NWS and became the warning coordination meteorologist for the forecast office in Jacksonville, Florida. Prior to accepting responsibility for the Key West office in 2010, he served as the branch chief for domestic operations at NOAA’s Aviation Weather Center in Kansas City, Missouri.

He recently retired as a colonel with the Air National Guard and held posts as staff and command meteorologist and emergency preparedness liaison officer at Tyndall Air Force Base where he played a key role in recovery efforts following Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike. He is also a member of the National Weather Association and the International Association of Emergence Managers.

To compliment his professional longevity in the forecasting arena, Johnson recognizes how islanders have become accustomed to receiving their news: via newspapers and social media. On June 1, 2011 the National Weather Service joins the millions of Facebook users to keep residents and visitors updated through the news feed. You can now “like” U.S. National Weather Service Key West Florida and count on updates on everything from boating conditions to waterspouts, tropical storms and hurricanes continuously updated by Johnson and his staff.

Incorporating social media into the structure is a significant addition. Tell us how this element will be executed.

We’ll now provide updates about the NHC outreach and education campaign and other items that might be of interest to the public throughout the year. During the hurricane season, the site will contain links to the NHC website (hurricanes.gov) highlighting active tropical weather.

What’s a routine day like at the National Weather Service forecast office?

The office is staffed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and is able to shift quickly from routine duties to non-routine duties if conditions warrant. We have at least two meteorologists working our short and long term forecast desks, plus staff for weather balloon launches. Normally we issue public, marine and aviation forecasts, prepare climate information, and provide forecast discussions for the Keys.

What’s a non-routine day like?

Given our mission is to protect lives and property, one of our most important duties is to highlight the potential for hazardous or dangerous weather conditions in the form of watches, warnings and advisories. Each year we issue around 300 Special Marine warnings for winds greater than 35 knots or waterspouts.

Over the last few years, Monroe County has been impacted by several storms, but without any catastrophic damage or loss of life. Can this be attributed to higher building standards, better evacuation procedures, advanced forecasts or just luck?

We must recognize and be ready for the onslaught of hurricane weather. In a typical three-year span, the United States coastline is struck on average five times by hurricanes, two of which are designated as major hurricanes.

It’s not luck that higher building standards, better evacuation procedures and advanced forecasts are all helping Monroe residents mitigate hurricane impacts. Keep the odds in your favor. Advanced planning and starting early will minimize the stress on you and your family.

When a storm is bearing down on South Florida, how should residents feel about evacuating to a hotel on the mainland that is just as likely to be struck by the hurricane as their home in the Keys?

Since the Florida Keys are very near sea level, they are very vulnerable to storm surge – the most dangerous part of the hurricane. In the horizontal, surge can fan out several hundred miles along the coast. In the vertical, surge has reached heights of 20 feet near the center of Category 5 hurricanes. Storm surge is by far the greatest threat to life and property for the Keys.

What should Monroe County residents be more concerned with: high winds or storm surge?

Both high winds and storm surge will have significant impact in Monroe County, but storm surge has the greatest impact and will cause the greatest loss of life. An example of the deadly storm surge for the Upper Keys was approximately 18 to 20 feet for the 1935 Labor Day, Category 5 hurricane.

Break down the key components of the Hurricane Local Statement, your primary warning decision support tool.

Our Hurricane Local Statements provide specific information about how a tropical storm or hurricane will impact the Keys; including, onset time of tropical storm/hurricane force winds, amount of rainfall expected, storm surge values and Monroe County evacuation orders, road closures, shelters and any other information that would help to reduce the loss of life and property.

The Hurricane Local Statement is released approximately one hour after each hurricane/tropical storm advisory is sent by the National Hurricane Center.

 

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