Tropics quiet for now, SSTs going up in some places while we prepare to test HURRB

Posted a video blog today highlighting the quiet time we have ahead. Also noted the rising sea surface temperatures in the northeast Atlantic, a stark contrast to where the region was this time last year. While things are quiet, the team heads to Kansas to test out our hurricane weather balloon project. All of this covered in today’s video discussion:

Field missions 2016: taking you beyond the edge of the envelope via technology

It is now hurricane season for the Atlantic Basin. So far, not much going on which is typical of early June. But what about when things do get busy and we have a landfalling hurricane? Assuming that this in fact happens, let me spell out for you how incredible our field coverage will be in 2016.

The plan

Our plan is to provide complete hurricane coverage from the moment we see a landfall threat until it’s all over and the recovery process begins. We have a dedicated and extremely talented team ready for field work and behind the scenes efforts. When it’s time to go, we will immerse you in the process like you’ve never seen it before. If you have any interest in hurricanes, whether it be from being fascinated by their raw power or maybe you and your family are in harm’s way, we will have it covered.

Everything we do will be streamed live on our public Ustream set of channels. It all begins the moment we leave the driveway and it won’t stop until we get back. We’ve been doing it this way since 2005, before most had any clue of how to stream live from a moving vehicle. It was pretty good then, it’s absolutely incredible now – the technology has come so far, it’s like you’re there with us every step of the way.

This gives us the advantage of keeping you in the loop every second of the mission. When there is new information coming in, we’re on it the moment it breaks. When we know, you’ll know because you’ll be joining us live as if you are there in the Tahoe with us. For those who have seen our coverage, you already know – and it just keeps getting better.

Unmanned cams

One of our 12 unmanned camera systesms - here seen while testing during the blizzard back in January, along the NJ coast

One of our 12 unmanned camera systems – here seen while testing during the blizzard back in January, along the NJ coast

Once we get to the area where we expect landfall, we will begin working to place our unique, state-of-the-art unmanned camera systems in places that no human being should present once the hurricane comes in. We have 12 of these cameras and can literally blanket a region with a virtual fence of live feeds that will leave you breathless when the worst of the weather arrives. Keep in mind that we now have audio with the camera systems, and let me tell you it is stunning how much this improves the experience. We’ve tested the new cams in winter storms and flood events as of late and the audio brings it to a whole new level of virtual immersion in to the worst weather imaginable.

Our goal will be to show the storm surge primarily since that causes the most damage and has the most potential for resulting in loss of life.  Our hope is that by placing an unmanned camera that anyone nearby who refuses to evacuate will think twice considering we believe it to be important enough to stick a camera in their neighborhood. What’s more, we have our own water height markers, surge markers if you will, that we will set up in front of the shot to show you how high the water is at any given moment. This is unprecedented in terms of the value to the public, emergency management, the NWS/NHC and the media. Live cams showing water and storm surge are great – but showing precisely how high the water is at a given location is the next level and can benefit so many people, even in the face of a terrible disaster. Our test in Deweyville, Texas for the record flood back in March proved the worth of this concept.

Screen grab from our Deweyville, TX streaming event that covered the record setting flood from the Sabine river back in March, 2016. Notice the flood marker that we set up on the stop sign to show the rise of water. We will use these same markers during hurricane storm surge events

Screen grab from our Deweyville, TX streaming event that covered the record setting flood from the Sabine river back in March, 2016. Notice the flood marker that we set up on the stop sign to show the rise of water. We will use these same markers during hurricane storm surge events (click on pic to enlarge)

The unmanned cameras typically run for 32 hours which is plenty of time for covering the entire landfall event. This also allows us to set them up in places that would perhaps otherwise be left without any coverage. Small towns or barrier islands that would be it hard by storm surge are now going to have a live camera that, once set up, will provide the people who evacuated with a look at what’s happening. All of this while keeping us out of harm’s way since we won’t be there where the storm surge is. Technology will provide the solution to the problem of how to get incredible live video from the most dangerous part of a hurricane. We will accomplish this goal using our new generation of unmanned cameras.

All of the live feeds will be made available to the public to view at absolutely no cost. We will post links right here on the homepage and make it very easy to follow along. We encourage viewers to share the links, embed them on their own pages, social media and elsewhere. Since we are using the ad-supported Ustream platform, we have no cost to provide the live feeds. Anyone with a modern device and and Internet connection will able to follow along for as long as they wish. It will be a remarkable experience, I guarantee it.

Weather data

Live weather data will be an important part of our field coverage in 2016

Live weather data will be an important part of our field coverage in 2016

The next step in our field work will be to set up our weather stations to collect the all-important data from the wind and the air pressure. Again, using top of the line equipment, our wind and pressure sensors will provide reliable, accurate data every 60 seconds from the moment we turn it on. This data, along with a web cam image from the site, will feed to our app, Hurricane Impact. It also goes exclusively to our subscribers via an interface we have developed for online viewing of the data. We have two complete weather stations in the U.S. now plus one in Bermuda (I left it there after Gonzalo in 2014). The two stations for U.S. landfalls will run for about 24 hours, providing exceptional weather data no matter how strong the hurricane is. Our goal will be to sample the highest winds with one station, likely placing it within the right-front quadrant relative to forward movement while placing the other station where we believe the eye will pass over, giving us (hopefully) the lowest pressure reading possible. You will be able to watch all of this as it happens – just get our app, it’s a great way to support our work and it gives you something that no one else offers. Sure there is plenty of online weather data, but how many of those stations were set up SPECIFICALLY for that hurricane? Ours are exactly that. Hurricane Impact- two words – search for it on the App Store and in Google Play.

HURRB Weather Balloon

HURRB payload ready for testing in 2015

HURRB payload ready for testing in 2015

All the while our equipment is streaming live video from what could be hell on earth conditions, and our weather stations are sampling the extreme environment, we will be preparing to do something that no one has ever even attempted, much less accomplished.

We call it HURRB for Hurricane Balloon. It’s a cute name for something very important and innovative. We have designed a payload that will be lifted via a 1500 gram weather balloon through the eye of the hurricane just after it makes landfall, to the stratosphere, and back down again via parachute. The payload contains weather sensors to collect temperature, humidity and pressure readings every 6 seconds. Using APRS and Amateur Radio, this data will be sent back live every minute or so. It’s also stored of course on a micro SD card inside the payload. In addition, a high-end GPS device will record the position and speed of the payload, also every 6 seconds, throughout the flight. This will help us to understand the wind pattern in the eye and as high as 100,000 feet above the planet.

Of course, all of this will be recorded via a pair of GoPro cameras placed on the outside of the payload. Never before have we seen the inside of a hurricane’s eye like this – not going vertical. Now imagine the moment when the payload exits the top of the hurricane and soars another 60,000 feet above – looking down on the white, massive spiral bands of the slowly dying hurricane as it moves inland. We don’t know what it will look like but we’re going to find out – if we get a hurricane, or even a tropical storm of decent strength and organization, we’ll launch in 2016.

The weather balloon will reach burst altitude – hopefully around 100,000+ feet – where it will pop and send the payload back to earth via a 4 foot parachute. APRS and satellite tracking will tell us exactly where it is and where it landed. All we have to do is recover it and see what we captured. It could be some of the most incredible video ever seen of a hurricane – we won’t know unless we try.

Colleague Kerry Mallory holding on to the inflated weather balloon and payload right before our test launch last June in Colorado City, Texas

Colleague Kerry Mallory holding on to the inflated weather balloon and payload right before our test launch last June in Colorado City, Texas

We’ve tested HURRB three times since designing it in 2012. The next test is coming up on June 12 in Kansas. After that, we wait for the chance of a lifetime.

Once it’s all said and done, we will have accomplished quite a bit. Basically it’s just a few guys working together to provide what amounts to the most comprehensive hurricane field coverage possible. No TV network will have 12 unmanned cameras placed in the teeth of the hurricane. Other “storm chasers” will certainly have impressive live feeds and hand-held video but they too will have to retreat at some point or risk being hurt or killed. Our cameras have no fear, no wife and kids to come home to, they just sit there and bear witness to the unleashed power that hurricanes bring. We will literally go beyond the edge of the envelope, the danger zone, so to speak, and immerse you in the wind, rain and storm surge like you’ve never witnessed it before. All of it executed via technology.

So there’s our plan. Now we wait and watch for that suspect area of weather that gradually becomes better organized, captivating our every thought as it strengthens and heads towards land. If and when the time comes, we will deliver the best hurricane coverage yet. Come along with us, we’ll take you there.

M. Sudduth 9:30 AM June 1

Adventure of a lifetime awaits, but first, must test and be ready



In 2012 we came up with the idea of launching a weather balloon with a payload consisting of weather data collection equipment and GoPro cameras in to the eye of a hurricane. And thus, HURRB was born: the Hurricane Research Balloon.

We built a prototype using a cheap Styrofoam cooler and launched it from near Buffalo, Texas in late May of 2012. Everything about it was a success. It worked.

Last June, we tried it again, this time using a Pelican Storm Case as the payload. It seems to be made for this type of thing and our test launch from Ardmore, Oklahoma was again a roaring success. Our payload managed to make it to 97,600 feet before the balloon burst due to the extreme low pressures of the upper atmosphere. Check out this video summary of the launch from last year:

It is now time to test HURRB again. This time, from Colorado City, Texas. I like choosing new locations each year in the center part of the country to make things relatively easy. Why? Well, simply put, during a hurricane, it is going to very, very tough. The stress of getting in to the eye and then getting a 1500 gram weather balloon ready to hoist a 4.5 pound payload 100,000 feet up is enough to make most people say, “forget it”. Not us. We think it can be done, we just need the chance. Practice doesn’t ever make perfect when dealing with the weather but it sure helps. We have to keep on testing in order to be ready when the time comes for the adventure of a lifetime.

HURRB has a special APRS transmitter that will give us its location above the Earth and then once it is on the ground. It also has an on-board satellite based tracking system that is a great back-up to the APRS transmitter. This is how we will track HURRB.

Far more important is the weather data we will be collecting. The High Altitude Science Eagle Weather Computer will log temperature, pressure and humidity every six seconds. It will also give us a detailed GPS track as well. This computer worked flawlessly last year but right now, it is malfunctioning on us and will be of no use for this test. However, failure is always an option and you have to learn from setbacks. We know the computer works and will make sure we have a working one for the real deal when ever that day comes. So no weather data from this flight but the GPS info from the SPOT locator and the APRS will tell us a lot about the wind above the Texas country-side.

Then there are the twin GoPro cameras. These give us the awesome shot of our wonderful planet from many miles up. One camera faces upward towards the sky and the balloon while the other camera is angled down but out just enough to show a horizon from time to time. High altitude balloon enthusiasts know all too well how spectacular the view is from 100,000 feet. We can’t wait to see what we capture tomorrow.

This launch is special too because of a dying east Pacific hurricane. Blanca is slowly weakening as it interacts with the Baja peninsula well to the west and south of where we are. However, the high level cirrus outflow is making its way across the Southwest and in to the skies above Texas. We will fly HURRB through this and probably 60,000 feet above it! While not the goal of getting HURRB in to the eye of a hurricane, we’ll take the cirrus outflow as a great first step.

We plan to set up and launch from Colorado City’s northwest side around 6:30 AM local time or 7:30 AM ET. If you would like to watch us prep the balloon and launch it – click the link below for the special HURRB page we’ve set up. There is also a link to track HURRB via the APRS website.

Click here to watch our launch and recovery (signal allowing) of HURRB

Once HURRB reaches burst altitude and the balloon pops, the payload will fall back to the ground via parachute. We will then locate it via the GPS tracking we have and hopefully recover the payload before early afternoon, if not sooner. We will do our best to stream the chase and recovery but some of the scrub brush area of Texas that we will likely travel through has no cellular data signal and so we might lose our feed. Once we recover HURRB, I will Tweet about it and make sure I post some video just as soon as possible.

This is exciting, a weather geek’s dream shot. I am hopeful that we have another perfect launch and recovery tomorrow – I guess there is only one way to find out. We’ll see you (if you’re up) from Colorado City, Texas bright and early tomorrow!

M. Sudduth 1:00 AM ET June 8

Time to get HURRB ready for incredible journey and you can be a part of it

HURRB the Hurricane Balloon

HURRB the Hurricane Balloon

Last year I announced that we were working on a project to launch a weather balloon and accompanying payload in to the eye of a hurricane when it makes landfall along the U.S. coast. The goal was to capture never-before-seen video as well as log GPS data to learn what the air flow is like inside, and above, the center of a hurricane after it makes landfall. We call it the HURRB Project.

We had a successful test in May of 2012 in Texas and were ready for a potential launch during last year’s hurricane season but the opportunity was never there.

The idea is to have the balloon lift a payload consisting of four GoPro cameras, a GPS data logger, a satellite tracking beacon and an APRS transmitter in to the eye of a hurricane. The payload was ascend up through the eye and if it clears without any mishaps, it would rise to 100,000 feet or more before the balloon burst due to the extreme low pressure. Then, the payload would fall back to the ground via parachute and we would retrieve it by locating it via the satellite tracker or the APRS unit. People do this all the time as a hobby all around the world. We want to do it in one of the most unique environments on the planet. If it works, we could have some of the most incredible video of the inside of a hurricane ever taken. As the payload rises above the eye, assuming we can get it to clear the swirling, turbulent tempest, we should be able to see the hurricane come in to view as the balloon goes on up to the edge of space. The view from 100,000 feet is incredible. We’ve seen it with our test launch. Looking down on the hurricane with our HD GoPro cams should be absolutely stunning. The only way we’ll know is if we try.

Prepping of HURRB for test launch in May, 2012

Prepping of HURRB for test launch in May, 2012

In addition to potentially once-in-a-lifetime video, we hope to gather valuable GPS data every 5 seconds that the payload is aloft. This will tell us a lot about the air flow in the eye and above the hurricane. We have no idea where the balloon will go once launched. We’ve asked scientists from NOAA and at various universities what their thoughts are and no one has a clear cut answer. That is what makes this so exciting: discovery. We will know once we try and that is an incredible motivator to get this done.

Obviously we have to have a hurricane to launch in. It would be best if it were in the middle of the day but even a night landfall will afford us the opportunity to gather the GPS data at the expense of getting any decent video. Who knows? We may get lucky and launch just as the sun is rising in the east. Can you imagine how that would look? Believe me, I have many times.

The project has been funded through private contributions from the general public and a few businesses who follow our work. We still have a need for about $1200 in order to purchase a balloon or two for this season and add the very latest GoPro cameras to the payload (ours are second generation HERO2 cams).

This is the HURRB tile available for purchase to help support the project

This is the HURRB tile available for purchase to help support the project

To help facilitate the fund raising process, we offered a unique opportunity for the public to get involved. We created a special light-weight plastic “tile” that can accomodate a signature or a message. We sell the tiles for $100 each and will include them with the payload to be sent in to the eye. We still have 18 tiles left over from last year’s efforts. We hope to raise the funds we need by selling these last 18 tiles. I’ll send it to you, you sign it, put a message, what ever you like (one person actually painted theirs – a true work of art!) and then send it back to us. We’ll then put it in a container to be sent up with the payload. When it’s all said and done, we’ll send the tile, a piece of the payload, back to you on a specially made frame to hang in your home or office. Talk about a truly rewarding experience in exchange for your support of this project. You may give it as a gift to someone or have the whole family sign it, what ever works for you. As you can see in the photo, people are creative with their tiles.

If you’re interested in helping out with funding, please visit the HURRB page for information on how to purchase a tile. I have 18 left and once they are gone, that’s it, there are no more. We will have them on hand until we finally launch HURRB – whether it be this year or in five years, those tiles go with HURRB on an incredible journey.

HURRB has its own Twitter account too: follow @HURRB and when we wake him up later this month, you’ll see that he has some interesting things to say.

I will have more about this project later in the season once we get closer to the more active portion in August.

M. Sudduth

Will this be the year that HURRB flies? If given the chance, we will make it happen



Last March I announced an ambitious new project that had the potential of being one of the most exciting that we have ever undertaken. Nick-named HURRB for Hurricane Balloon, the goal is simple: use a weather balloon to loft a payload consisting of four GoPro cams and a collection of GPS recording and transmitting devices in to the eye of a hurricane at landfall. The balloon and payload should reach an altitude of at least 100,000 feet before bursting in which case the payload would fall back to the ground via parachute. That was the idea. And so we embarked on a fund raising campaign and raised the capital needed to build a prototype and test it in Texas last May. As noted in a recent blog post concerning a related project with CNN, the test in May was nearly perfect. All that was needed was a hurricane to launch in to – we had Isaac but its eye was not clear enough nor was its position over southeast Louisiana ideal for recovery. So we passed. Sandy was not a hurricane at landfall, not in the traditional sense, so it was not an option either. Now we wait again for the chance to let HURRB fly.

However, in just the past year, a lot has changed with technology and we will not be waiting around with the same equipment that we ended 2012 with. GoPro debuted a new camera last fall – the Hero3. It has the capability of shooting in stunning, digital cinema quality 4k video! Can you imagine seeing the inside of the eye of a hurricane and then flying out of it to 60,000 feet above it in video that is of the same quality as most digital movies at your local theater? Yeah, you can see why we are excited about this. Add to this the fact that we will use four cameras and not just one or two and it puts this project as #1 on our list of goals to accomplish in 2013.

Beyond the video, which will be nothing short of extraordinary I am sure, there is GPS data to collect. Using APRS, an Amateur Radio beacon, and other on-board GPS data recorders, we can track the payload and record its movements in 5 second intervals. This will help us to get a clear picture of the wind flow inside the eye of a hurricane as it is making landfall. We are going to donate ALL of the GPS data that we collect to anyone interested in utilizing it. There are a lot of questions to be answered. Where will the balloon go once released? Will it go straight up if we launch in the middle of the eye? Will it reach the top, probably 35,000 to 40,000 feet up and keep going up or will it then head off in one particular direction? We do not know. The project, once it succeeds, will give us the answer. I am a science and weather geek by my very nature and this project is as cool as they come. We are hoping for the chance to launch but realize that this will mean we have to have a landfalling hurricane this coming season. Obviously we do not control that nor do we wish for the painful aftermath that hurricanes leave behind. The way I look at it, if there is a hurricane, who better to be there and at least learn as much as we can about it? Right? Perhaps this project will inspire others to do similar work. After all, landfall is when it matters the most, let’s learn when given the chance, no matter how rare that chance may be.

HURRB has its own Twitter account and will post links to its data feeds and other info when the time comes. Feel free to follow along: @HURRB

We plan to test again this coming May in Texas. Why Texas? It’s flat and fairly easy to recover the payload there. We know (boy do we know) that finding the payload after launch can be difficult, especially when we do it in a hurricane. So we figure getting the launch part down to a precise science is vastly more important that worrying about simulating recovery conditions. We will have GPS tracking devices on the payload, two layers of back-up, maybe three, and thus we are confident we will at least know where it lands after a launch in to the eye of a hurricane. The hardest part will be getting in to position to launch in the first place. We need to get everything ready so that all we have to do is plop down a tarp, unload the helium tank and fill that giant balloon, tie it off and let it go in under 10 minutes. So much will depend on how large the eye is, how fast it is moving and where we are inside of it. Our goal is to be in the dead center where the wind should be almost calm. This gives us a real shot at letting that balloon go and having it rise at about 1200 feet per second. In less than half an hour, if all goes well, the APRS unit should tell us that we cleared the eye. If we can just do that, I will be so happy, as will the entire team. This is why we need to test again in May. We must get everything ready in advance and know the role of each team member. The clock will be ticking and we will be under enormous pressure to get things done and launched before the other side of the eye arrives. Remember – this is all to be done at showtime inside the eye of a hurricane, not on a nice sunny day in Texas. Practice will make things easier, but not perfect, it’s never perfect.

As you can see, we have several major projects in the works for this season. This is what the off-season is for. We are glad to have the time to plan and talk things over, to innovate and be ready for the chance to do some good when a hurricane does come calling. We hope you’ll following along throughout the coming months and can be with us when everything comes together. Whether it be this HURRB project, our remote cams or the app, we have three distinct but related projects that can help to bring you the best hurricane news and information that we can. I’ll post updates about these projects periodically over the coming weeks and months. Then, before we know it, June 1 will be here. We will be ready, that much I can promise you.

Check out our HURRB page here.