Keys meteorologist Rizzo weathers his fears
BY TIMOTHY O’HARA
Free Press Staff
KEY WEST — Jon Rizzo became a meteorologist in part to understand his own fears about weather. As a boy growing in Maryland, the booming sound of loud thunder would send him to his bed-room running for cover. Rizzo has since ridden out some of the most dangerous tropical storms and hurricanes to skirt the Florida Keys in the past 12 years.
Rizzo serves as warning coordinating meteorologist for the National Weather Service’s Key West office on White Street. He was on the front lines of the more than a half-dozen hurricanes, many from the most dangerous point on the island — the old flood-prone weather station office off coastal South Roosevelt Boulevard at the airport. The office moved to White Street shortly before Hurricane Wilma flooded the island in 2005, leaving South Roosevelt Boulevard under several feet of seawater during the peak of the storm.
Rizzo refers to his current position as a “child-hood dream come true.”
He knew since middle school he wanted to be a meteorologist, passing over percussionist and civil engineer, his two other passions, he said.“I was frightened by storms and I wanted to know what frightened me,” he said. “I remember hearing stories about being that 3-year-old who stood in front of the screen door during a storm and running to his bedroom at the sound of thunder.”
After graduating from Florida State University and briefly working in the private sector, Rizzo started with the National Weather Service in Key West in 1999, working an entry level position. He briefly moved to Spokane, Wash., for two years before returning to the Key West station in 2001.He and his wife, Alicia, and son, Jack, have become a part of the Key West community. Alicia works as a nurse and Jack attends Horace O’Bryant school.
Rizzo will be busy from now to when hurricane season ends in November, with the most active time being September and October in the Keys. Hurricane season reaches its “statistical peak” the week of Sept. 10 in the Keys and the rest of the northern Caribbean, Rizzo said.“We are entering prime season,” Rizzo said.
As the warning coordinating meteorologist, Rizzo is responsible for forecasting localized weather during threatening hurricanes and storms to determine when emergency crews can safely go out and survey damage or run rescue calls.
“We are like the head bowling pins,” Rizzo said of the weather station personnel. “Our mission is to stay with emergency management services and the first responders during the most critical times.”
The summer hurricane season may be the most exciting time to be a meteorologist, but it is the everyday forecasts that many Keys residents rely on, as they make their living on the water and need to know if a squall or front is moving through. The local office regularly issues small craft advisories and other weather notifications.
“The Keys are a more vulnerable place to work and play,” Rizzo said.
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