Satellite shot of western Atlantic on this first day of hurricane season
June 1 marks the official beginning to the Atlantic hurricane season. For the next six months, the tropics will be the focus of attention for a lot of people that either live on the coast or have interests along the coast. The season is also of interest to millions of weather buffs from all over the world. There is something about hurricanes that captivates our imaginations and keeps us glued to the satellite pics, model pages and the NHC site; always looking for the next blob of clouds that could ultimately morph in to a beast of a storm.
No one knows for sure how much activity we will have this season. Most forecast agencies, and there are a lot of them now, that issue a seasonal forecast say that El Nino could play a significant role in keeping the total numbers down a bit. We shall see – I guess we will know for sure in six months, right?
On the off chance that we happen to have a hurricane impacting the United States, or even Bermuda, Nova Scotia or parts of the Yucatan, we’ve assembled a set of tools to provide you with the absolute best hurricane coverage anywhere. This year will mark the first time in our history that we have hurricanes covered literally from the surface of the ocean to the edge of space. Sounds bold? Let me elaborate.
Let’s start with storm surge. For the past nine years, we have been developing our remote Surge Cam technology that allows us to place unmanned camera systems right in the worst of the storm surge to stream live video. We set the units up, then get out of the area and allow technology to do the work for us. It keeps us safe and brings incredible live video to our audience. We have five of our fixed location Surge Cams ready for 2014 – three of them now have audio capability. I cannot imagine what it will sound like but we know it’s only a matter of time until we find out. The fixed cams are just that – we will attach them to structures that we feel will survive the surge relatively intact. The perspective will give us a front row seat as the storm surge moves – all without putting any people in harm’s way.
New for this season is our answer to “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”. We lost the very first set of Surge Cams back in 2005 when Katrina wiped out everything that we had attached them to. It was a tough lesson and we have applied those lessons learned in subsequent high surge events with excellent success.
This year, we will deploy, given the opportunity of course, a new type of Surge Cam – the Drifting Surge Cam (DSC). I have discussed it rather extensively in recent weeks in previous blog posts. Essentially it is an un-tethered Surge Cam that is allowed to literally go with the flow and drift where ever the surge and wave action takes it. Thanks to modern and affordable satellite GPS tracking technology, we are confident that we will be able to locate the devices after the hurricane has passed. In fact, we have two levels of tracking built in – satellite and Amateur Radio. The box will literally talk to us for up to a week.
The idea is to place the DSC in an area where storm surge is forecast to be 10 feet or higher. The box will be set out to float along with the surge as it arrives and begins to inundate the coast. Live video, with audio, will stream from the DSC to provide a haunting but important look at just how storm surge works – from on top of the surge itself. GPS data captured and transmitted via satellite will tell us where the box is and thus how the flow patterns evolve as the surge increases. The audio is likely to be about as eerie as it can get. The sounds of debris bumping in to the box, howling wind whipping up the water, the crushing sound of structures being torn apart as the box moves along – all of this will help to motivate people to get out when told to do so. Seeing is believing and this is the ultimate way to do it. We will have three DSC units ready for deployment if conditions warrant this season.
Next up is wind and air pressure. I love data and so does my team. We have always been about the data when ever we venture out in to a tropical storm or the most powerful hurricane. Our reports have often been cited in NHC advisories and post-season analysis write-ups. We take great pride in capturing reliable, accurate wind and pressure data. This year we will have three mobile weather stations that will report maximum 1-min average wind speed, peak gust for that minute and the average air pressure for that minute. Our stations also have a live camera that feeds a JEPG image to our server every 60 seconds. The data and images are fed in to our app, Hurricane Impact, which displays the information in near real-time. The data updates dynamically every minute, providing ground truth data from the teeth of the hurricane. The camera will also provide a live image from the site where we set up the station. This makes for a perfect combination of live weather data and a visual of the location, right where the worst of the conditions are expected to be. All of this is part of our app – search Hurricane Impact in the App Store or Google Play.
Once a hurricane (and perhaps even a tropical storm if conditions are right) makes landfall, we have a project that is about as exciting as they come. Introduced in 2012, our Hurricane Research Balloon (HURRB) will be ready for launch in to the center of the landfalling system via weather balloon. We tested it first in late May of 2012 in Texas with nearly perfect results. Now we have a new generation of HURRB, a much smaller, more compact version that we are actually going to test tomorrow morning in Oklahoma.
The objective of HURRB is to capture temperature, humidity and air pressure data from the surface of the earth to 100,000 feet. This would put the payload at roughly 60,000 feet ABOVE the hurricane’s clouds. The data is recorded on a chip inside the small Storm Case and logged every 6 seconds. GPS data is also collected at the same frequency, allowing us to know the air flow patterns within the center of a hurricane and then far above it, nearly to the edge of space.
Of course, if you’re going to launch something in to the eye of a hurricane, you have to capture that on video, right? We have that covered too using a pair of GoPro3 cameras. One will face up with the other facing down to give us a look at the inside and then top of a hurricane like we’ve never seen it before.
We will recover the payload using the same general technology that we’re using in the DSC – satellite and APRS. Once the payload parachutes back to earth, it will tell us where it is and we will go get it, no matter how nasty the terrain is, one way or another we will recover HURRB and hope to unlock some pretty amazing secrets about how a hurricane behaves as it is making landfall.
As I mentioned, it just happens that are test launching HURRB tomorrow morning near Ardmore, Oklahoma. I chose that area because it’s wide open and easy to navigate for the recovery process. I am in Dallas right now with three other people involved with the project: Kerry, Paul and Todd. The four of us will head out later today for some scouting work to get a feel of the landscape. Then, tomorrow morning, between 10am and 11am ET, we will set HURRB free to ascend high in to the atmosphere, collecting weather data and GPS data along its journey. We will track using satellite and APRS and HURRB will actually Tweet how he’s doing – follow along @HURRB on Twitter.
If all goes well, we expect to recover the payload somewhere in southeast Oklahoma by mid-day. As soon as I get the video processed and the data extracted, I’ll post the results here. It will be an exciting way to kick off the 2014 hurricane season and hopefully a positive step towards being able to deploy HURRB in the eye of a hurricane at landfall sometime later in the season. We might get that chance or we might have to keep waiting. Either way, we will be ready.
So as you can see, we have quite the arsenal of tools to throw at a hurricane and even a tropical storm as it makes landfall. I am very proud of our collective accomplishments as a team and look forward to bringing our audience the absolute best, most complete, hurricane coverage possible. Our live video capability is better than ever. You can depend on this site all season long for up-to-date information, blog posts, social media interaction and of course, unprecedented live coverage from the moment we hit the road until it’s all over. We are glad to have you along and hope that you and your family will do your part to prepare for hurricane season. It only comes down to that one event that affects you or someone you care about. The numbers will never tell you about that. There’s no way to know if one of those predicted named storms or hurricanes will have your address on it. Just in case it does, as they say, luck favors the prepared.
Is anything brewing out there now? Not yet but there is some interest in the southwest Gulf of Mexico and I’ll be watching it closely over the coming days. Looks like more of a big rain maker than anything else but remember, rain fall from tropical cyclones is a big deal. Don’t dismiss a weak tropical storm as being harmless. Even a small rattlesnake has a big bite.
I’ll have more here later this evening with a post specifically about our HURRB test tomorrow.
M. Sudduth 12:44pm ET June 1