Edward Johnson

Edward Johnson Image
Location of Interview
Collection Name

NOAA Heritage Oral History Project


NOAA Heritage Oral History Project aims to document the history and legacy of NOAA through compelling interviews with its leaders. These firsthand accounts provide an invaluable resource that preserves NOAA's significant contributions to environmental research and management, fostering a deeper understanding of NOAA's vital role in shaping our understanding of the Earth's oceans and atmosphere.

Date of Interview

Molly Graham

Principal Investigator
Biographical Sketch

Dr. Edward Johnson was born in Columbus, Georgia, in 1950.  Johnson attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for his undergraduate and graduate education, earning his PhD in Civil Engineering in 1978.  He came to work for the National Weather Service Office of Hydrology, Hydrologic Research Laboratory as a research hydrologist in 1978.  In 1999, Mr. Johnson served as director of Strategic Planning and Policy for the National Weather Service and retired in 2015.  

Scope and Content Note

Dr. Edward Johnson discusses his family history and upbringing in the Jim Crow South, his experiences in high school, and then college at MIT. He shares his interest in water management and water resources engineering and talks about receiving a scholarship from Lockheed during his graduate and doctoral programs. He explains how he worked on planning activities and developed computer models related to sewage systems and rainfall prediction and how his doctoral dissertation focused on building a predictive model for rainfall. 

Dr. Johnson goes on to discuss his work at the National Weather Service (NWS) and his involvement in hydrology and flood prediction. He explains the distinction between design-oriented hydrology and predictive hydrology, highlighting the unique challenges and importance of flood forecasting. He also talks about the structure of the NWS and its placement within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), referring to the "dry side" (weather forecasting) and the "wet side" (oceanic and fisheries concerns). He shares anecdotes about the early days of the Weather Service, its reliance on telegraph and teletype systems, and his involvement in designing the National Weather Service River Forecast System. He describes his involvement in the Weather Service Modernization activity and various projects related to hydrology, such as the radar program for precipitation estimation and the development of systems like ASOS and AWIPS. He also discusses his experiences during the Modernization and Associated Restructuring (MAR) efforts, highlighting the challenges, stress, and disagreements he faced. 

Dr. Johnson also describes the Red River Flood of 1997, its aftermath, the forecasting methods used by the Weather Service, and the misinterpretation of the predicted river levels by the community. He then moves on to describing his role in strategic planning and policy within the Weather Service, which was initiated by the new director, Jack Kelly. Eventually, Dr. Johnson recounts, he was appointed as the director of strategic planning and policy. He also talks about the "Weather-Ready Nation" strategic plan, which he participated in. The interview concludes with discussion of retirement and Dr. Johnson’s views on the importance of history within the Weather Service.


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