Hurricane Arthur: a success story for the science

Radar screen grab showing my location as the eye of hurricane Arthur passed over me

Radar screen grab showing my location as the eye of hurricane Arthur passed over me

The hurricane Arthur field mission to the Outer Banks of North Carolina was one of the most successful in our history. We had more technology to throw at it than in any other event. The results have been fantastic! I want to share some of those with you now.

First of all, a HUGE thanks goes out to Jesse Bass, Mike Watkins, Paul Bowman and Kerry Mallory for helping to make this as stress-free as possible. I may be the guy on TV sometimes but there is a real team effort going on here and it shows in our results.

The goal was to gather data and report on conditions. We succeeded 100% with that goal.

Screen capture from our app showing the live weather data coming in from the anemometer placed on a house in Rodanthe, NC

Screen capture from our app showing the live weather data coming in from the anemometer placed on a house in Rodanthe, NC

Jesse and I arrived in Rodanthe about an hour before sunrise on Thursday, July 3. Within 45 minutes, the weather station was set up and streaming live data to our our app, Hurricane Impact.

By early afternoon, we had flown the quad copter three times in three separate places to show the area before Arthur pushed through. I felt it was important to see the region before the high water lines and debris in order to compare later and piece together the how and why of the storm surge that was sure to affect the area.

We set up a live streaming camera, with audio for the first time ever, at a home in Hatteras Village. I thought there was a chance for significant surge flooding there as we saw during Alex in 2004. It did not happen this time due to a different track than Alex took but the camera ran perfect for over 24 hours – a new record for our technology. You have to understand, these unmanned cameras are completely self-contained with their own battery supply, etc. This was a milestone for our live video capability. The Weather Channel used the shot numerous times and our other private clients tuned in from time to time to check things out. Even when the power to the village was out, it was great to be able to at least hear the wind and rain hitting the case that housed the camera system.

I did not deploy any additional live cameras due to the fact that Arthur was going to move through during the middle of the night (why do most seem to do that? Grrrrrr!). However, we did have a new device, a live surge cam that we do not anchor to anything – we call it the “Drifting Surge Cam”. I was hesitant about deploying it, again, since it was dark. Then, I thought, what the heck? I might as well test some of its capabilities like being able to track it via satellite. If we did not get any decent live or recorded video, so be it, let’s see if the concept works in a real surge event. It did!

I set the DSC out with the help of Jim Cantore right where he was reporting from in Waves, NC, on the sound side of Hwy 12. Within an hour or so, the live stream quit for unknown reasons but the GoPro inside kept going. We also noticed it was moving once the eye went past the location and the wind switched directions and pushed the Pamlico Sound over the area.

From what we hear, the water rose several feet in mere minutes. Too bad it was dark, the DSC would have captured that rise in full HD! There will be a next time and we are already working on putting LED lights on the unit to at least let us see something as opposed to nothing.

Once I knew the eye was not going to pass over Jim’s location, nor mines in Rodanthe, I drove up Highway 12 towards the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge building. I knew the parking lot was elevated enough to keep me safe from any surge that might come in later. I captured wind data on the Tahoe’s anemometer which recorded a peak gust of 81 mph at nine feet above the ground. Not bad for a fairly low height of the anemometer.

Our weather station recorded a peak gust of 70 mph at 10 meters above the ground in Rodanthe. This makes sense due to the fact that the eye wall did not pass over Rodanthe, not like it did where I was or in the Pamlico Sound itself where WeatherFlow, Inc recorded higher winds than I did via their instruments over the water.

My lowest pressure was 977.3 millibars as the eye moved over me just south of the Oregon Inlet – not even a mile. During the eye I carefully drove on to the Bonner Bridge to position myself as close to the eye’s center as possible. It was an amazing few minutes as the calm set in and precip dropped to nothing.

After the eye passed over, I went back south on Highway 12 a couple of miles and witnessed the storm surge racing in from the sound. I have never seen the water rise that fast in all my years of doing this. Some of the video I shot of that happening was thought to have been time lapse it happened so quickly. I assure, it was not! The surge literally pushed up Highway 12 from higher elevation points to lower ones, coming at me like an army. I was in virtually no danger since I had the Bonner Bridge behind me and it was easily 12 to 20 feet higher than the sound as you go up the approach. This safety net allowed me to document the surge coming in which I will use to show people who have no clue about such forces and hopefully motivate them to evacuate if ever told to do so. My experience with the area, knowing what to expect, where to go and how to be safe is a big part of the success of the mission.

Drifting Surge Cam GPS track showing its sart point and where it ended up and was found by The Weather Channel's Jim Cantore

Drifting Surge Cam GPS track showing its sart point and where it ended up and was found by The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore

Now, since the surge did some damage to Highway 12, I was not able to get back south on the 4th to Rodanthe or Hatteras to retrieve my equipment – or the Drifting Surge Cam. We tracked it via satellite until it seemingly stopped “phoning in”. We wondered if it had quit, was it found and taken by someone? What happened? It clearly moved from where we left it, in fact, by several blocks. This, in and of itself, was remarkable. The DSC worked, it drifted and we captured its GPS trail. I do not know of any other time that surge has been studied with a drifting GPS device. This will help us to understand the flow pattern and how fast the case was moved. Why does this matter? It further emphasizes the fact that you cannot wait until you know there is a danger, as in see it happening with your own eye, and then act. Evacuation saves lives and storm surge is the main reason evacuations are called for. This data will help us in pushing that message out during future events.

With me being cut off from Rodanthe and points south, I had to just head back to Wilmington where I live.

I talked to Jim Cantore and asked him to go look for the DSC. He was stuck in Waves and could not leave until Saturday afternoon. We sent him a map showing where the last signal was received and sure enough, Saturday morning, he found it right where it was supposed to be – covered in mud and gook! Success! No more losing surge cams to surge like we did in Katrina back in 2005. This is a huge breakthrough for our work and I am very happy with the results!

What did the GoPro cam capture? Nothing really, it was just too dark. That is the way it goes sometimes but the victory we take away is that the technology allows us to get closer to a hurricane’s lethal impacts than ever before without putting people in the way of it. We can see and study the effects in new ways, offering new perspectives for our audience and clients such as The Weather Channel. I have always wanted to bring live weather data to the mix for national television reporting, now it is happening – the science is being integrated in to the news.

Mirlo Beach area two days after hurricane Arthur. You can see where the surge pushed in from the Pamlico sound though with proper mitigation, the damage was minimal and the area is recovering rapidly

Mirlo Beach area two days after hurricane Arthur. You can see where the surge pushed in from the Pamlico sound though with proper mitigation, the damage was minimal and the area is recovering rapidly

I am back in Rodanthe now completing some post-Arthur work, including aerial video from the quad copter. I want to see the effects of the surge on the landscape, how the geography gets changed. Seeing it from above is the only way to do so on the scale that I need. Four years ago, this would not be possible as it was too expensive for this type of technology.

The good news is that the Outer Banks are fine. You will hardly notice anything happened out here except for a few areas where the surge was especially deep and debris is strewn about. The ocean is great, no worries there at all. Come on down and visit, take a vacation. Someone told me it was a slice of heaven out here – I agreed and even though a day of hell comes along every once in a while, those are few and far between compared to the natural beauty that lures so many people to the region year after.

The tropics are quiet, at least in the Atlantic and east Pacific. Out in the west Pacific, a powerful typhoon is raging. It’s that time of year – best to be alert and ready if the pendulum swings back in to the Atlantic before all is said and done. Thanks for following our work and we’ll see you out there the next time.

M. Sudduth 10:30 AM ET July 7

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About Mark Sudduth

Greetings! I am Mark Sudduth, the founder and editor of The site began in 1999 as a way to post info concerning tropical storms and hurricanes for any interested visitors. Little did I know how big it would become in the years since. Now, we have millions of visitors from all over the world who have come to rely on the site as a no non-sense, tell it like it is resource for all things hurricane related. We are supported by a combination of corporate sponsors and our loyal Client Services members who subscribe to premium content on our sister site, I am married with six energetic and intelligent children and live in southeast North Carolina. I graduated UNC-Wilmington in 1995 with a BA in Geography and have studied the effects of hurricanes on our society ever since.

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