neil jacobs

NOAA director Neil Jacobs has been a hands-on weather forecaster since his days as a young surfer at Folly Beach. Here he checks out systems aboard an agency sonar vessel. NOAA/Provided

The man in charge of federal research and forecasting for hurricanes isn't new to this. Neil Jacobs lived in Summerville when Hurricane Hugo struck in 1989.

"We had 14 trees down in the yard, no power for three weeks. I had to chainsaw our way out of the driveway," said Jacobs. "I remember how scary it was and how scarce the resources were."

Want more convincing? The acting administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration cut his teeth surfing The Washout on Folly Beach as a teen and currently owns four surfboards.

"I have always been a weather forecaster because I wanted to know when the weather and waves would be good for surf," he said.

Jacobs, 45, currently lives in Durham, N.C. His appointment earlier this year drew controversy from climate groups such as the Union of Concerned Scientists because of his background with a private weather company and his advocacy for NOAA to use more private company resources.

Jacobs deflects that, calling on the need to streamline services in a time of budget cutting. He also cited the efficiency of the improved Global Forecast System weather prediction computer model that was developed with private and university input. He expects models in the future will be developed in similar "open source" fashion, with various public and private organizations collaborating.

Besides, the last time Jacobs was in Charleston for a business trip in June, guess where he headed after the meeting? Yep, The Washout.

jacobs surfing

NOAA acting administrator Neil Jacobs surfed The Washout at Folly Beach while growing up in Summerville. Provided

"It was good. We had a coastal low (weather system). The surf was chest high," he said. "A little choppy the first day."

Jacobs holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics and physics from the University of South Carolina, along with masters and doctoral degrees in atmospheric science from North Carolina State University. He has held both public and private forecasting jobs since.

Hurricane Wire is a pop-up newsletter during hurricane season that delivers anyone who lives on the East Coast all the information they need to know as storms brew in the Atlantic and beyond.

Before his NOAA appointment, he was a chief atmospheric scientist at Panasonic Avionics Corporation — the position that stirred the controversy because the company does business with NOAA.

His goals at NOAA are to improve accuracy of not just forecasts but also information broadcast to the public. He said he would like to reduce the "false alarm" rate.

"We seriously need to improve how we convey the message," he added.

Among other moves, NOAA is strengthening how it collaborates with local emergency management offices — one of the reasons for his recent Charleston visit.

Meanwhile, his new administrator job is not necessarily the dream job that a young surfer might have thought it would be.

"It's really hard to get out of Washington, D.C.," Jacobs said. "I've got four surfboards. I know exactly when the weather and waves will be good, but I can't get to them, which is frustrating."

Reach Bo Petersen at @bopete on Twitter or 843-937-5744.

Science and environment reporter. Author of Washing Our Hands in the Clouds.

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