National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce
Crane Johnson

Location: Anchorage, AK
Alaska-Pacific River Forecast Center (APRFC)
Job Title: Hydrologist in Charge

Educational Background:

  • Bachelor’s Degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Alaska Fairbanks
  • Master’s Degree in Civil Engineering (specialization in Avalanche Mechanics) from the University of Calgary (Calgary, Alberta, Canada)

Describe the career path that led you to your current job with the National Weather Service.

  • Early in my career, I worked for a water research group at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. After graduate school, I decided to pursue a traditional career in civil engineering while teaching avalanche safety courses part-time. After designing airports for five years for the Alaska Department of Transportation, I decided to get back into water. First, I worked with the Corps of Engineers as a hydraulic engineer then joined the National Weather Service as a hydrologist.

What do you do for the NWS?

  • I’ve had a range of responsibilities while working for the NWS. Initially as a Senior Hydrologist I was responsible for leading a daily forecast team that issues river water level forecasts. My work also included leading our transition from manual observers to a network or automated river stage gages. After stepping into the Service Coordination Hydrologist role my duties included understanding user needs, providing technical guidance to partners, and coordinating with Weather Forecast Offices (WFOs) to provide technical guidance & training. On the job, my actual duties included all of the above plus a variety of other interesting things. I brought a strong hydraulics background to the River Forecast Center (RFC) and worked to develop the first inundation map library within our region. In my current role as the Hydrologist in Charge I lead a team of meteorologists and hydrologists at the River Forecast Center. It’s a diverse group with a great range of skills and experience to meet our mission

What was the most interesting, exciting, or impactful weather/water event you experienced while working for the NWS and why does it stand out?

  • River Watch! The Alaska-Pacific River Forecast Center works with the State of Alaska on a program called 'River Watch' each spring. Teams from each agency head out and follow the ice break-up front on our largest rivers each Spring. This mission has a direct impact on local residents with results often communicated in person each day, after a long day of aerial reconnaissance. The mission provides direct decision support to communities along these rivers.

What made you decide to pursue a career with the NWS?

  • I worked closely with hydrologists from the Alaska-Pacific River Forecast Center for about eight years. When a position opened up, I decided to give it a try. Fortunately, I am able to work closely with my former employer, the Corps of Engineers, on water resource projects.

What do you like most about working for the NWS?

  • I like the daily interaction with our public observers and working with a great group of people towards a common goal of reducing flood impacts.

What advice do you have for someone interested in a career with the NWS?

  • Learn the federal hiring process and don't give up if you are not hired the first time you apply. Visit a local National Weather Service office and learn about the tools and science they use to forecast both the weather and rivers in your area. Look for interesting positions that will help you build a strong understanding of water resources and hydrology in your area.

What training or coursework would you recommend to someone interested in following your career path?

  • I would recommend a degree in civil engineering for anyone interested in a hydrology career with the National Weather Service. I’ve found many interesting and exciting opportunities that I attribute to a strong background in water resources and engineering.