New method of observing and understanding storm surge

In 2005, Mike, Jesse and I worked to develop a remotely operated unmanned camera system that could be placed out in a hurricane to capture and stream the effects. Mike and I first deployed the system during the infamous hurricane Katrina in Gulfport, Mississippi. Katrina won – for the most part. We didn’t give up and used the encouragement from people such as Max Mayfield to continue refining the project and eventually have a successful deployment.

Since that fateful day in late August of 2005, we have placed the so-called Surge Cam in numerous hurricanes with spectacular results. The best example is from Ike in 2008 along Galveston’s coast. In fact, we had three Surge Cams streaming live, covering nearly 15 miles of the region.

The video that is streamed live gives the public, media and emergency management a real-time look at what is actually happening as the surge progresses. The archival video yields valuable data in the form of understanding the process of storm surge, how fast it inundates the coast and what the flow of water, and the debris within it, is like. Using time lapse to speed up the action gives us a unique look at patterns that ultimately tells us how storm surge behaves. In the end, it aids in demonstrating to the public just how dangerous storm surge is and why measures must be taken to protect life and mitigate property damage.

Over the years we have worked to make the Surge Cams more efficient and far easier to deploy. The live video feeds have become spectacular as wireless data has become more robust. We can thank Sprint for their support of these efforts dating back more than a decade.

Now it is time to take a new approach- one that will change how we view storm surge in a very profound way.

Drifting Surge Cam

Drifting Surge Cam

Today, while attending the National Tropical Weather Conference in South Padre Island, Texas, I am pleased to introduce you to our newest project: the Drifting Surge Cam (DSC). What is it? Quite simply- a pair of high-tech eyes accompanied by an assortment of data recording devices, to be placed untethered where storm surge flooding is expected to occur.

The DSC will be placed just inland from the oceanfront and the breaking wave zone. As the surge begins to inundate the area, the DSC will begin to float. As the water rises, the device will float along, pushed by the wind and flow of water. It will go where ever the surge takes it. All the while, one camera will stream live video with audio as a second cam, a GoPro, records the event in stunning HD. We will experience the storm surge from an incredible perspective as it happens.

Meanwhile, GPS recording equipment inside the DSC will capture position plots every five seconds. This will tell us volumes about the flow of the surge, how fast debris moves, and how high the water rose.

In addition, pressure and temperature sensors will record data every six seconds further enhancing our data set of the hurricane as it makes landfall.

How will we find the DSC once the hurricane passes? We learned during Katrina that losing the Surge Cams was in fact possible given the amount of damage that accompanies such an extreme event. We have satellite based tracking that will tell us the precise location of the DSC every 2 1/2 minutes. We also have radio based tracking technology in case the unit does not have a clear view of the sky. If we can get to within a half mile of it, we can “hear” it talking to a hand held radio and zero in on its resting place. Who knows? It may still be streaming live, providing us with clues as to where it ended up.

The chance for discovery through this project, much like our HURR-B weather balloon project, is exhilarating to think about.

For the public, media and local officials, the DSC becomes an important tool for knowing precisely when the surge has begun to inundate an area. Seeing, and hearing, the surge from just inches on top of it is incredible to think about. Who knows what we will see and hear as it drifts along, getting  pounded by debris in the water, relentless wind and swirling, angry water. It could be perhaps a little unnerving to witness the lethal power of storm surge from this perspective.

In the end, we believe that the use of the DSC will help to motivate people to take action and evacuate when told to do so. We will be able to employ the use of video to help determine accurate water levels as the unit moves along about its journey within the surge. This can aid in the “wind vs water” issues that often arise during extreme surge events. The possibilities are numerous and we hope that the DSC will function as another resource for contributing to the science of hurricanes.

How can you see it when we deploy it? Easy. We have chosen to make the live feed available free of any cost for anyone to view through our public Ustream feed. Media interests are encouraged to link to, share or embed the live feed as you see fit. This device can show people who have no idea of what storm surge is capable of just how bad it can be. That, in turn, may be just what it takes to convince them to leave for higher ground while doing what they reasonably can to mitigate property damage.

We will schedule a live test of the DSC on our Ustream channel sometime later this month in Mason’s Inlet along the north end of Wrightsville  Beach, NC. This will provide an excellent simulation of advancing storm surge on an incoming tide. I will post more details about the test later next week.

For now, check out this video of a test that we conducted back in February in Galveston, TX. It is remarkable to me how incredibly buoyant the DSC is. Even fairly large breakers could not flip it or submerge it- not the least little bit. The test exceeded our expectations and gives us confidence that we will have a successful deployment one day – when the time comes. Special thanks goes to Kerry Mallory for braving the chilly Gulf to take the DSC out more than 200 feet on its first test.

Any questions? Shoot me an email: ms@hurricanetrack.com

I will post more on this new project soon.

M. Sudduth April 11

 

 

 

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National Tropical Weather Conference kicks off next week in Texas

National Tropical Weather Conference

National Tropical Weather Conference

It’s getting closer to hurricane season. Yes, despite the harsh winter that the Lower 48 endured, hurricane season still begins on June 1 for the Atlantic Basin. Therefore, it is time to start planning and preparing for what may lie ahead. One effort to do just that begins next week in south Texas: the National Tropical Weather Conference.

This particular conference focuses on the broadcast meteorology field, an important ally in relaying hurricane information to the public.

The conference director, Alex Garcia, told me in a recent email interview that the conference officially began last year as a continuation of what was the Bahamas Hurricane Conference – put on by the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism. Here is that interview:

MARK: When did the National Tropical Weather Conference begin and why?

ALEX GARCIA: In years past The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism would sponsor a three day conference focused on Tropical Meteorology for Broadcast Meteorologists.  It was a great way to get a complete update for the upcoming hurricane season.  Topics included, storm surge modeling, forecasting, watches/warnings dissemination, mitigation programs, forecasting and much more.  Additionally, it provided an opportunity to meet and interview the top names in tropical meteorology, mitigation and preparedness.  In, 2010, the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism announced they would not have the 2011 conference.  Tim Smith and I felt we had to find a way to bring it back and the National Tropical Weather Conference was born.

MARK: Who benefits from the conference?

ALEX GARCIA: The primary group that benefits from this conference are the broadcast meteorologists that attend.  They gain important knowledge about the upcoming hurricane season that they can take back and share with their viewers. The knowledge includes the latest forecasting techniques, disaster preparedness, social media communications, hurricane special production, mitigation elements, and much more. They also have the opportunity to interview conference speakers for their hurricane specials and to go “live” in their hometown weathercasts from the conference to raise awareness about hurricane safety.  A secondary group to benefit is the South Padre Island Convention and Tourist Bureau.  The coverage and live shots from the conference provide an excellent venue for highlighting the island.

MARK: Tell me about this year’s highlights? Who will be speaking?

ALEX GARCIA: The highlight this year is the announcement of the Hurricane Seasonal Forecast made by Dr. Bill Gray and Dr. Phil Klotzbach “live” at the first session of the conference.  Dr. Gray will also be honored and presented the first Robert and Joanne Simpson Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Field of Tropical Meteorology.

Other highlights include a Director’s Panel featuring Directors of the National Hurricane Center that will include Dr. Richard Knabb, Neil Frank, Max Mayfield, and Bill Read.  The National Tropical Weather Conference is the only conference that features a number of former directors in its program.  Additionally, Dr. Frank will make a special presentation on the Bolivar Peninsula.  Other highlights include presentations from Tim Marshall, wind engineer and wind damage specialist, Trenise Lyons from the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, and special luncheon address from Jack Williams, author of the USA Today’s Weather Book and John Coleman, founder of the Weather Channel.

MARK: How do you see the conference growing in the years to come?

ALEX GARCIA: We envision a healthy rate of growth in the coming years.  The 2014 conference will be our second conference with twenty-nine broadcast meteorologists attending.  This represents a 140% increase from our first year.  Our conference is focused on the needs of the broadcast meteorologist and we plan to refine the topics keep a sharp focus on the items and information they need.  We also plan to reach out to meteorologists in countries like the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Mexico and others that have hurricane impacts.  Our goal is to get 100 broadcast meteorologists at the conference.

END OF INTERVIEW

The conference will also feature several speakers, such as Jim Edds of extremestorms.com, Jason Dunion from the University of Miami, Lew Fincher of Hurricane Consulting, Inc, Nate Johnson from WRAL-TV in Raleigh, Derek Ortt from Impact Weather, storm chasers Skip Talbot and Jennifer Brindley Ubl, Lucas Macdonald from Walmart’s Emergency Operations Center. I will be co-presenting with colleague Mike Watkins on our work intercepting hurricanes and the data that we have collected over the past decade. For a full list of the speakers, click here.

I would also like to note that Mike and I will be unveiling a brand new project at the conference. It is something that we feel will be a major step forward in understanding storm surge effects from an entirely different perspective. Our presentation will end with the announcement of this new project. I will have a special blog post about the project that will go live during our presentation. I am very excited about this and cannot wait to share it with not only the conference attendees but our followers as well.
Hurricane season will be upon us in less than 60 days. Whether or not it is an active year with a lot of overall activity matters little. What does matter is the impact to YOU. This conference, along with several others around the country that will take place over the coming weeks, is an excellent example of team work, leadership and proactive steps being taken before a storm comes knocking. I will post updates and interviews from the conference here and in our app – Hurricane Impact. Remember, it has a convenient video section where you can catch the latest video blogs or updates, anytime, anywhere.
A special thank you goes to Alex Garcia for taking the time to answer my email interview questions. Mike and I both look forward to attending this important forum and are honored to be among the featured speakers.
I will have more here late next week from South Padre Island, Texas.
Visit the official site of the National Tropical Weather Conference
M. Sudduth 9:10 AM EDT April 2
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Lawmakers to push change in freezing point of water to help win battle against Global Warming, hurricanes

As we approach the start to the 2014 hurricane season, there is a new push to stem the tide of Global Warming and maybe finish off hurricanes once and for all. Is this a good idea? Time will tell. Here’s what we know.

A congressman from Georgia has introduced legislation that would take the freezing point of water from 32F to 40F. It would be the first such change in the so-called “temperature continuum of di-hydrous-oxide” in over 125 years. As you can imagine, the bill has struck a serious nerve within the climate community who argue that messing with the freezing point of water in the past has led to grave consequences.

“Just look at the Little Ice Age – man caused that to happen” said Rick Grimes, an opponent to the bill from Woodbury, Georgia. “We need to leave the freezing point of water where it is lest we trigger another round of climatic unrest that could have irreversible effects.”

Others are downright joyful of the proposed change.

Herschel Greene, an electrical engineer specializing in greenhouse gas studies, notes that “if the freezing point of water is legally raised to 40F, then America can save billions in electrical costs because refrigeration won’t require as much energy”. He may have a point.

A recent study from the University of Georgia – Woodbury, suggests that raising the freezing point of water could substantially reduce not only the energy costs but also the time it takes to produce ice. This has huge implications for outdoor sporting events which have to struggle to keep beer and other beverages cold in summer heat. Making ice less susceptible to melting by raising the freezing point to 40F means that, on average, ice will last 37% longer during a baseball game or football game. The cost savings to the beverage industry means that there is a potential cost savings to be passed along to consumers. Cheaper beer? Maybe so- if the bill can pass scrutiny.

What about the rest of the world?

The push to raise the freezing point of water to 40F is only an American legal issue right now. There is talk of perhaps suggesting a change, though not as drastic, in the UK and France. Other European Union members have no interest in such matters, especially up north where the ice business is stable and thriving.

“Why mess with something that has worked for over 125 years?” asks Sven Walker who sells ice along Norway’s Blue Fjord region – part of a generation of ice harvesters dating back 1000 years.

End of hurricanes as we know them?

The one singular benefit that lawmakers and the public can agree on is this: if the legal level at which water freezes is in fact raised to 40F, then hurricanes have almost no chance of surviving. Why? The air will be colder sooner which means more dry air from Canada to sweep south and stop Atlantic and Gulf hurricanes before they can reach land. This will save the insurance industry tens of billions of dollars annually. However, the blow back for other hurricane related businesses, such as HurricaneTrack.com, remains to be seen. Without hurricanes, there’s no need for this site or hurricane shutters, plywood, most uses for generators, fancy hurricane tracking apps, FEMA and other organizations that make a living because of the existence of hurricanes. One expert is not convinced and actually thinks that raising the freezing point of water could make hurricanes worse!

“If we have a colder base atmosphere in which water condenses and thus freezes, then we have a greater imbalance between the warm oceans and the artificially cooled atmosphere,” suggests Dale Horvath, state climatologist and paleo-hurricane specialist for Georgia. He may be right, we will have to wait and see.

The next step for the bill is for debates to begin in July. A panel of climate experts will converge in Washington D.C. to put the proposed legislation under the proverbial microscope. If it passes muster, then it may be that come next winter, snow will fall with much warmer temps than we are used to seeing. This means more snow days for the kids but since the air temperature will actually be warmer, it won’t feel as cold while playing in the snow. I guess the end of frozen fingers could be upon us.

I will keep you up date on the progress of this proposed change to the freezing point of water. For now, enjoy your April 1 and remember, don’t believe everything you read, no matter how well it may seem to be written.

Mark Sudduth

 

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Polar Vortex out, El Niño in?

Cross section of subsurface water in the tropical Pacific over the past few months. Clearly, a warm pool of water has developed deep beneath the Pacific and is expanding east.

Cross section of subsurface water in the tropical Pacific over the past few months. Clearly, a warm pool of water has developed deep beneath the Pacific and is expanding east.

The much maligned term “Polar Vortex” that was used quite often this winter within the weather blogosphere is about to be replaced….maybe. By what? El Niño. Yep. The Great El Niño could be making a comeback. Remember the Saturday Night Live sketch with Chris Farley about this phenomenon? It was a classic and just another example of how weather mixing with pop culture can be fun but sometimes quite wrong.

El Niño is not a single event like a storm or a hurricane. Instead, it is just a name that us humans have assigned to a change in the tropical Pacific that results in sea surface temperatures being warmer than the long-term average. Once a certain threshold has been met, we call it El Niño. Make no mistake, it will get a lot of play in the media, especially where Global Warming is concerned. The reason? The oceans act like giant cooling or heating agents. When the Pacific, the largest water basin on the planet, is warmer than it should be, then we typically see global temperatures spike – as if someone turned up the thermostat for the earth. My bet is that the pro-global warming crowd will be salivating at the potential El Niño event as it will help to boost their notion that man is screwing things up in a big way. I have no dog in that fight as it does not matter to me. What I mean is, so what? If man is making Earth warmer, who is going to go first to completely stop living in modern times? Anyone? That’s what I thought. My take is: adapt and mitigate. If not, we perish. No debate there, just ask the dinosaurs.

Back to the topic at hand.

The reason El Niño is important, other than acting like a massive thermostat for the planet, is that it seems to wreak havoc on the Atlantic hurricane season. The simple reason seems to point to higher than normal wind shear and sinking air across the tropical Atlantic due to the presence of the warmer than normal water in the tropical Pacific. In other words, El Niño would be perceived as a positive for those who would rather not deal with hurricanes; except for times when something like Andrew comes along. You can add to that list: Audrey, Camille, Alicia and even all of the landfalls of 2004. Those were all El Niño years. The point is, generally speaking, El Niño has a negative impact on Atlantic hurricane activity but this is not a guarantee. Kind of like how the 2013 hurricane season turned out. You just never know even in the face of what seems like a near certainty.

The reason behind the talk of an impending El Niño is due to several things that we can see going on across the tropical Pacific right now and within the past few weeks.

Pressure differences in the west Pacific have resulted in stronger winds blowing from the west. This causes a change in the way the ocean behaves and helps to generate what is called an oceanic Kelvin wave. I call it a Monkey Wrench in the ocean state. Normally, the trade winds in the Northern Hemisphere blow from east to west and thus the west Pacific is almost always warmer than the east Pacific. When the pressure pattern is altered, for reasons yet unknown, then the wind reverses course and that warm water is pushed eastward. This happens more so at the subsurface believe it or not in what is called downwelling. Warm water is literally pushed downward and then begins a very slow trek eastward where it upwells in to the eastern Pacific. The result: the birth of El Niño. It’s much more complicated but that’s the general idea. No one knows precisely what triggers these events to begin the chain reaction but it appears, at least for now, that forces are being set in to motion that could have huge global impacts as we move through 2014.

As for predictions, computer models are very unreliable for predicting long term weather patterns. They just cannot resolve the complex atmosphere coupled with the ocean several months in advance. In fact, the ECMWF, considered to be the very best global model in the world, called for an El Niño event last summer. It did not happen. So we shall see. While there is mounting evidence to support an El Niño event taking shape this year, it’s not clear at all how strong the El Niño would be. Obviously, the warmer the anomalies (departures from normal or average) then the more dramatic the impacts would likely be. We just don’t know yet.

As for how this potential El Niño will affect the 2014 Atlantic hurricane season – well, let’s just make sure we remember Andrew in 1992 as a case study in “it only takes one”. Sure, the overall numbers may be way down compared to the past 15 years or so. All it takes is for one, and it doesn’t even have to be a hurricane, to spoil the summer fun.

Stay tuned. El Niño is about to show Polar Vortex the door…maybe. I’ll have an update on this in mid-April.

M. Sudduth 9:15 AM ET FEb 25

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Winter storm coverage in North Carolina begins today

I mentioned at the end of last hurricane season that I would like to begin reporting from and studying winter storms. Good timing. This season has featured numerous such storms for the eastern United States and this latest one looks to be quite potent.

My plan is similar to that of a hurricane field mission: get to an area, set up equipment, report from that area using live streaming video. As such, my plan is to head to the North Carolina piedmont/foothills area – specifically Statesville. In fact, I will be set up where I-40 and I-77 intersect, a major traffic corridor. I feel this is an important area to report from due to the interstate system there coming east-west via I-40 and north-south via I-77. I will report on snow depth, air temperature and wind speed using our fantastic new “everywhere cam” on our Ustream channel. In addition, I will set up a “SnowCam” somewhere in the area to monitor conditions via one of our remotely operated cameras normally used to monitor hurricane storm surge. I’ll determine the best place for that cam when I get there later today. Both of these live feeds will be available free for anyone to watch or share.

I will also push video updates to our iOS/Android app – Hurricane Impact. If you have it, now is a great time to check out the video section under field missions. I can post video clips anytime, anywhere and they show up in the app within a minute or two. This is a great way to test that feature of the app and I plan to post at least two dozen video reports throughout the event.

Tune in periodically to check on conditions as I travel from Wilmington, NC via I-40 to Statesville. I will have the cam running 24 hours a day and it will literally go everywhere I do. I think you will be very pleased with the results of this incredible technology and I hope to provide some useful information about this very serious winter storm. Any questions? Email me: mailroom@hurricanetrack.com or follow on Twitter: @hurricanetrack

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