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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

David L. Johnson
David L. Johnson
Director of the National Weather Service
August 13, 2004

David L. Johnson

Thank you for joining us today. Hurricanes are among the most powerful forces, bringing destructive winds, tornadoes, and floods from torrential rains and ocean storm surges.

As Florida and other states brace for the impacts of Hurricane Charley, which is expected to make landfall near Tampa Bay this afternoon, we're reminded of the dangers to lives and property these storms bring each year.

On May 14th of this year, President Bush called upon all of us in government, private organizations, schools, news media and residents in hurricane-prone areas to share information about hurricane preparedness and response, and to take steps to minimize storm damage and save lives.

I appreciate this opportunity to answer your questions and urge anyone in coastal areas to protect themselves against hurricanes and tropical storms.

Teagan, from St. Charles, MO writes:
Mr. Johnson, it appears as if most of the East Coast is going to be affected by the two Hurricanes in Florida this weekend. If the hurricanes immediately disperse when they hit land, how is it that states all the way up to New York and beyond will be affected?

Thank you very much.

David L. Johnson
Hurricanes do not immediately disperse upon landfall, they do however derive their fuel from warm water -- so upon landfall they usually start to decay. They still are of concern because by definition hurricanes have high winds and an associated storm surge. They can also generate tornadoes. Heavy rainfall is a significant concern long after they lose their hurricane status because of the floods that rainfall generates. Studies over the 30 years show that over half of the deaths associated with tropical cyclones are caused by flooding.

Ben, from Detroit, mi writes:
Mr. Johnson, what is the President doing about the hurricanes?

David L. Johnson
On May 14th, the President signed a proclamation to increase public awareness. He also, through the executive branch, directs the action of your National Weather Service, a part of NOAA. He also directs FEMA. We're proud to be a part of the whole team, which includes universities, state governments, media and the private sector.

Bill, from Arlington writes:
Since you've been keeping data, on average, how many hurricanes form each year? Thanks

David L. Johnson
On average, we see 10 storms. Of these, 6 become hurricanes, and of those 2 become major hurricanes. The official National Weather Service hurricane outlook for 2004 is for 12-15 named storms, 6-8 hurricanes with 2-4 major hurricanes. But it only takes one storm to impact the lives and livelihoods of our citizens. You need a family plan to deal with any disaster before it happens -- especially hurricanes.

Joseph, from Port Huron, MI writes:
What is the most important thing to do when preparing for a hurricane?

David L. Johnson
Have a plan. Know your home's vulnerabilities. Have a safe area predetermined as well as an escape route. Have a disaster supply kit with a NOAA weather radio, extra batteries and other essentials. Be prepared to execute that plan, and listen to emergency managers.

alex, from indy writes:
my question is mr johnson is why do we have 400,000 people evacuating from florida and the other one is is there any chance that these hurricanes can get worse and my final question is do you know if there will be dammage to the homes in fl i will let you respond to my questions thanks

David L. Johnson
Alex, great question...

Our citizens in Florida are at greater risk because they are so close to sea level. The winds and storm surge associated with hurricanes put them at risk. They are leaving now because they wisely listened to their emergency managers. Have you seen the images of the traffic jams associated with the evacuation? You must be ready to act when the emergency managers tell you what to do.

jim, from Schenectady, NY writes:
Are current weather models closing the gap between predicted and actual weather, i.e., better prediction capabilities from, say 2 or even 5 years ago? Thanks.

David L. Johnson
Jim -- Thanks for the question. Our past investments are paying off. We've invested in more capable satellites, 'hurricane hunter' aircraft in NOAA and the U.S. Air Force Reserve, new super computers to run the models as well as the models themselves. Today our forecast five days out is as accurate as our three day forecast of 15 years ago. We hope to get even better in the future.

Saraih, from Alexandria, VA writes:
Hello Mr. Johnson.I'm traveling with my family down south to South Carolina this coming Saturday and would like to hear from you what would you advise to those traveling south this weekend. How bad of a wheather are we expecting to get on Saturday? Thank you for taking my question.

David L. Johnson
Be sure to listen to your National Weather Service forecasts and the media -- it is better to be prepared than surprised. Traveling brings a set of challenges different from those faced at home. Often we see images of cars driving through standing water over roadways. Even if you think you know how deep the water is, a better approach is to "Turn Around, Don't Drown." You may not know that the road surface has been washed away. By the time remnants of Hurricane Charley reach South Carolina, the most significant hazard is expected to be from heavy rains and flooding. Enjoy your trip, but be careful.

Reeves, from Maine writes:
Mr Johnson, What can you tell us about the recent discussion regarding a new El Nino? Would it affect this years hurricane season?

Thanks for coming out.

David L. Johnson
Hurricanes use heat as fuel, so warmer water has the potential to feed larger and more destructive hurricanes. We're getting better research and better science to help us understand how this happens. El Nino and La Nina are terms used to characterize water temperatures in selected key areas of the ocean. The change in water temperature affects the atmosphere. We need more science and better ways to take accurate measurements, and a better understanding of the atmospheric-ocean interaction to improve our forecasts. Thanks for the question.

Mark, from University of Michigan writes:
I have great interest in weather, especially hurricanes, and in what ways severe weather can and does impact the economy and environment of a region. I am currently a senior environmental science student at the University of Michigan and wish to enter a career in urban planning that focuses on planning the urban area to limit the impact of severe weather, especially hurricanes. What career opportunities are available in the federal government for someone with my interests?

David L. Johnson
Meteorology is an interesting and important field of study. You or fellow students can become cooperative weather observers and send valuable weather observations to help us with the forecasts. All citizens benefit from the efforts of these patriotic Americans. Urban canyons represent an exceptionally difficult weather forecasting challenge. I'm glad you have an interest. I hope you become a leading expert in this area and apply for a position in the National Weather Service. I'll be watching.

Michael, from Pennsylvania writes:
Mr. Johnson, I am a weather junkie, I was wondering is there a place wear you can track the storm live? At the end of each hurricane season I go to an archive site to get the data of the coordinates. I was wondering if you could tell me a better site for following the storm live? Thank you

Mike "Mikey" Brown

David L. Johnson
Michael, today there are 3 missions being flown by hurricane hunting airplanes (both NOAA and the USAF Reserve crews) fly these missions to fix the storm center and help us monitor the track every 3 hours. We'll get several satellite updates and we'll post those coordinates in our hurricane update. We pride ourselves in providing timely, accurate and focused environmental information to America. I encourage you to plot the track and see just how accurate we are. I believe you'll be impressed.

David L. Johnson
Thanks for your interest today. This is obviously a very important topic, and I'm glad to have had the opportunity to discuss hurricanes, with one still bearing down on Florida, I've got to run!