Test launch of our Hurricane Research Balloon (HURRB) today

HURRB the Hurricane Research Balloon

HURRB the Hurricane Research Balloon

Today is the day that we launch our specially designed payload in to the skies above Oklahoma via weather balloon. We have filed the proper notice with the FAA, selected our launch location and have everything ready to go. In just a few hours, HURRB will ascend to 100,000 feet or more, the balloon that took it there will burst due to the extreme low pressure, and HURRB will parachute back to the ground where we will retrieve it to see what we captured.

HURRB is equipped with two GoPro3 cameras, a high-altitude weather computer, a SPOT locator satellite tracker and an APRS beacon that uses Amateur Radio to keep track of the payload and its location.

The weather data is especially interesting to us since the ultimate goal is to launch HURRB in the eye of a hurricane at landfall. We will have air temperature, humidity and pressure logged every siix seconds throughout the duration of the flight. Coupled with GPS data that will reveal the wind patterns and we have an opportunity to break new ground in understand the structure of a hurricane once it has crossed the coastline.

Obviously the video from the GoPro cams will be exciting too. The payload will rise to at least 100,000 feet, putting it well over 60,000 feet above the hurricane. I cannot imagine what this view will look like but I hope to find out one day.

I am working with my good friends and colleagues Kerry Mallory and Paul Bowman who will directly assist in today’s launch and recovery efforts. In addition, one of our long-time friends and supporters of HurricaneTrack.com, Todd Pallay, has joined us from Louisiana to provide an extra set of eyes, wheels and to take pictures and video for us. I think he is as excited as we are about today’s launch.

The site we will use is in Ardmore, Oklahoma about 10 miles southwest of the municipal airport. It’s a wide open field that will suit our needs perfectly. The entire launch process should only take 10 to 15 minutes and then it’s time to pack up and chase down the payload to make a quick recovery somewhere over southern Oklahoma.

You may watch the entire event live on a special page I have set up just for this project. Click on this link to go the page where two streaming video players are set up. One will be from our ground based “everywhere” cam. The other cam will be a live feed from our Phantom Quadcopter which will be make active for the launch itself. It should be quite awesome to see HURRB lift off from the ground while watching it ascend from the quadcopter’s view some 300 feet up. Also, you may follow HURRB on Twitter for live updates: @HURRB.

I’ll post more here later this afternoon or early evening and hope to have some awesome video to share at that point. Wish us luck, this is an exciting project and one that we hope can help contribute more to the science of hurricanes as they make landfall along our coastlines.

M. Sudduth 8:00am ET June 2

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Hurricane season is here and we are ready with the best tools in our history

Satellite shot of western Atlantic on this first day of hurricane season

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 Рsearch 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

 

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First, Houston Hurricane Workshop, then, test HURRB

Houston/Galveston Hurricane Workshop

Houston/Galveston Hurricane Workshop

I am very excited about the next several days. There is a lot going on as we close in on the start of hurricane season. It all begins, for me anyway, in Houston this Saturday.

I will be flying out on Friday for the Houston Hurricane Workshop this Saturday. It is an enormous hurricane preparedness and information event held at the convention center in downtown Houston. I will have a booth there with my good friend and colleague Kerry Mallory – who is also the Amateur Radio operator for our HURRB project, more on that in a moment.

The workshop features speakers on hurricane preparedness, forecasting and recovery. There are numerous business, non-profits and emergency response/management groups on site as well. The workshop is billed as the largest of its kind in the nation – fitting for Texas, right? It is open to the public, costs no money to get in and runs from 10am until 3pm at the George R. Brown convention center. Come on by and say hello – while you’re there, you can meet HURRB before we send him to the edge of space. Which brings me to my next topic…

We began the HURRB or Hurricane Research Balloon project in 2012 with the idea that we could launch a payload via weather balloon in to the eye of a hurricane at its landfall along the U.S. coastline. At the time, we were hoping to gather GPS data along with HD video from our GoPro cams mounted on the payload. We tested the project near Buffalo, Texas in late May of 2012 with about as perfect a set of results as one could expect. Now it is time to take it to the next level.

The first generation of HURRB was made out of styrofoam – a simple $2.57 cooler from Walmart. It served its purpose but lacked the strength that we felt we needed in the payload. After all, this is meant to endure the powerful winds of a hurricane.

HURRB payload

HURRB payload

Meet the second generation of HURRB. It’s made out of a small Storm Case, just like the ones we use for our Storm Surge cams. It is tough and will handle the forces that it may encounter during its ride in to and back from the eye of a hurricane.

This time, we are going smaller. The GoPro cams area smaller, and thus weigh less. The payload is smaller and looks more like a payload than a flying cooler. Inside of it is where the magic awaits. We have acquired a high-altitude weather computer specifically designed for use in weather balloon studies. It will measure and record temperature, humidity and air pressure every six seconds. It will also log GPS data throughout the entire flight. I love data and cannot wait to see what we get when we test it on Monday.

Ardmore, OK area where we plan to launch HURRB on Monday. The green area is the possible touchdown area for HURRB after the balloon bursts at 100,000 feet

Ardmore, OK area where we plan to launch HURRB on Monday. The green area is the possible touchdown area for HURRB after the balloon bursts at 100,000 feet

Our plan is to travel north from Houston on Saturday after the workshop. We will then pick up our tech guru, Paul, from DFW. After some planning and careful analysis of the upper air charts, we will head to Ardmore, Oklahoma on Monday morning to launch HURRB. Right now, we hope to let it go between 8am and 9am local time (9 to 10 ET). The flight should last about 90 minutes. We will have satellite and APRS tracking so we will know where HURRB is at all times. If all goes well, we will recover the payload somewhere over the open country of southeast Oklahoma with some incredible data to look over. Add to that the stunning HD video, from one cam looking up and the other cam looking down, and it makes for an exciting day of science.

We hope to learn more about how the equipment functions as well as get our timing down to as little as possible. Remember, we want to launch HURRB in the eye of a hurricane at landfall. We must move fast to get everything ready and HURRB in the air before the center of the eye moves away from us. Our goal is to have everything prepped and HURRB in the air in less than 10 minutes. It can be done and that’s what Monday’s practice will help us do.

HURRB can be launched at night too if we must. We cannot control when a hurricane makes landfall and if we get one at night, then up HURRB goes. While we won’t see much, if anything, from the GoPro cams, we will capture excellent high-frequency weather data from the surface of the earth to 100,000 feet or higher. In fact, we can even launch in a tropical storm if conditions allow. There is much to learn about tropical cyclones as they make landfall and because recon is generally not flown during landfall, launching weather balloons seems like a logical solution to the problem.

Follow HURRB on Twitter @hurrb as he will be Tweeting along his journey on Monday. Might even have a selfie or two – you just never know what HURRB will do once he’s awakened and powered on.

I will post more from the workshop this Saturday. If you’re in the area, please stop by. We’ll have one of our anemometers set up high on a pole so you’ll know it’s us. Come by and meet HURRB and register for our awesome prize package which includes a free 1 year membership to our Client Services site. Then, it’s on to the 2014 hurricane season. We’ll be ready, hope you are too.

M. Sudduth 10:23 am May 28

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Hurricane season is approaching, time to put Drifting Surge Cam to the test

Drifting Surge Cam

Drifting Surge Cam

With less than two weeks to go until the Atlantic hurricane season begins, it is time to dust off the equipment and make sure things are ready for any potential field missions this season.

One piece of equipment that we are putting in to operation this year is our newly developed Drifting Surge Cam (DSC). I first introduced it last month during the National Tropical Weather Conference in South Padre Island, Texas. The idea behind the project is to provide a live stream of storm surge from the storm surge. That’s right, the black box, loaded with an array of high-tech recording devices, will be placed out where the storm surge is expected to be significant enough to inundate the coastline. Instead of being locked down and attached to something, it will be allowed to drift with the rising water, going where ever the flow takes it. In essence, it will be part of the debris but poses no hazard to property or people (anyone not smart enough to have evacuated had better hope they don’t see it drifting by – that would be a really bad sign). The DSC floats on top of the water like an oil tanker, almost impossible to capsize. It is equipped with a live streaming camera that will provide a unique look, and sound, of storm surge as it happens. There is also a GoPro camera that will record incredible HD video for up to 13 hours.

In addition to the video aspects, the DSC will also transmit its location via satellite so that we may track it in near real-time. Seeing it move with the storm surge as it advances will be really interesting and should provide us with data that can help to understand how fast the water rises and what the debris flow is like. All of this from a perspective that would likely be lethal for a person to try to accomplish.

We tested the DSC in Galveston back in February with exceptional results. Tethered to a 100 foot rope, it was dragged out nearly 100 yards in to the cold Gulf of Mexico where 3 to 4 foot waves tried to capsize it. I could not believe how well it performed on its first test. The data and the video were simply perfect, totally exceeding my expectations.

Now, it is time to put it to another test. This time in conditions that more closely resemble storm surge.

We know that storm surge is a gradual rise in water as a tropical cyclone approaches land. The wind literally pushes the water on to the coast, rising more rapidly as the radius of maximum winds approach. The effect is similar to the tides, especially low tide coming in to high tide. At low tide, a lot more land is exposed that is normally covered in water. As the tide comes in, the water level rises and inundates estuaries, inlets, beaches, etc. On top of the rising tide are waves of varying height and period. There is also usually a local wind effect that helps to push the waves along.

Mason Inlet, along the north end of Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina

Mason Inlet, along the north end of Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina

The idea is to place the DSC in an inlet, Mason Inlet to be specific, right before the tide reaches its lowest point. From there, it does its thing while the tide slowly makes its way back in. Inch by inch, the water will rise and will eventually float the DSC. Once it goes buoyant, it should drift along with the current of the incoming tide. The inlet is perfect since there are ocean waves coming in. If all goes well, the DSC will end up near the back of the inlet, floating on top of the rising tide, bobbing along like a cork in a stream.

Low Tide will occur near 9:50 AM Friday morning

Low Tide will occur near 9:50 AM Friday morning

All the while this is happening, the DSC will stream live video, with audio, and transmit its location. This time, you can watch as it takes place. I will have a special page set up with two streaming video player consoles – one for the DSC, the other for our hand-held “everywhere” cam. This will give you a look not only from the DSC but also from my perspective along the shoreline. The entire test will probably take 4 to 5 hours. I am going to haul quite a bit of gear down to Mason Inlet and be set up for the duration. In fact, I also hope to fire up the Phantom quad copter to provide a live stream from the air as the DSC moves along in the inlet.

You will be able to track its progress via a link to our SPOT locator device which will update every 2 1/2 minutes.

Once the test is complete, I will process the video and the data to provide an assessment of how things worked out. The time lapse alone of the incoming tide should be really cool to see. Add to that the drift data from the GPS recorder inside the case and it completes a unique picture that can ultimately provide more clues as to exactly how storm surge works.

The test is scheduled for this Friday beginning at around 9:30 AM ET. I will Tweet about it and hope to answer your questions and take feedback along the way. The weather looks to be incredible all week long with Friday being seasonably warm. The water temp is in the low 70s which is a heck of a lot better than the Gulf of Mexico back in February. It should be an exciting day and I hope you can tune in from time to time to check things out.

I’ll post another update on the test Thursday afternoon which will include the links and the page that will have the live video feeds.

M. Sudduth 6:50 AM ET May 19

 

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East Pacific hurricane season underway

East Pacific hurricane season typical tracks

East Pacific hurricane season typical tracks

The hurricane season has begun for the eastern north Pacific. It begins a couple of weeks ahead of the Atlantic but ends on the same date – November 30. In an average year, we can expect to see roughly 14 named storms form with about eight of them becoming hurricanes. The first name on this year’s list of names is Amanda.

Most east Pacific storms and hurricanes track generally west to west-northwest and away from land. However, some take a more northerly track and can impact Mexico and parts of Central America with devastating results. One huge issue, even with weaker systems, is heavy rain. The terrain across the region is mountainous and prone to mudslides and flash flooding. One rare occasion a tropical storm or hurricane will strike the Baja Peninsula or cross in to the Gulf of California, bringing heavy rain to part of the southwest United States. This usually happens in the latter part of the season when stronger troughs of low pressure dip south along the west coast of North America, pulling tropical systems north.

Also worth noting – when an area of interest is picked up by the National Hurricane Center in the east Pacific, it is designated with a number, 90-99, and the letter “E” for East Pacific. This is similar to the “invest” naming system for the Atlantic in which case we see the letter “L” used. So if you see me mention “91-E” or “95-E” that’s what I am talking about. It’s just a way to designate a system as being of particular interest and thus having appropriate amounts of satellite, computer model and possible recon resources allocated to track its future development potential.

Right now, there are no areas of concern brewing in the east Pacific and none of the long range computer models indicate anything substantial forming over the next few days.

With the likely El Nino taking shape, it is possible that the east Pacific will see more activity than average this season. Warmer water temps usually lead to more storms but this is not always a guarantee. If there is unusually dry air around or a lack of focused upward motion in the atmosphere, then no matter how warm the ocean is, it is difficult to have prolific development. Odds are, however, that this season will be a little busier than we’ve seen in a while for the east Pacific. Time will tell.

I will post updates here about any activity in the east Pacific and if something is threatening land, I will have video blogs posted in our app, Hurricane Impact, as well as with our friends at Hurricane Pro/HD in their app.

Check back on Monday for a very important post concerning two big events coming up at the end of the month and to start off the month of June.

M. Sudduth 2:21 PM ET May 15

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