Hurricane season begins

It’s June 1 and that means the official start to the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season had arrived. For the next six months the Atlantic Basin will be monitored closely by hurricane trackers all over the world.

What is it about hurricanes that captivates the imaginations of so many people? A large part of it has to do with proximity: most people who care enough to track hurricanes more than just passively actually live on or very near the coast. Thus, these folks have a vested interest in what may be coming from the tropics.

Still, a large number of people from all over the country and indeed, from around the world, track hurricanes with great interest. I think it is the still mysterious nature of these children of the oceans that draws people in. It’s a power far greater than any of us can begin to comprehend and so we are glued to our computers, our mobile devices and our TVs and radios when the likes of a Hugo, Andrew or Katrina comes calling.

So what’s in store for 2013? Every respected hurricane forecasting entity from universities to NOAA to private firms have all suggested that this season could be quite busy. What none of them can tell us though, not with any degree of accuracy, is where these future hurricanes will end up. Will it be your back yard? Will they remain just far enough off the East Coast to warrant only concern but little else? There’s just no way to know for sure. We can venture to guess based on past patterns but I think it is better to be aware and be prepared.

Speaking of being prepared, what does that mean? For me, I think it is two-part concept. First, it’s about education and knowing the enemy. The more you know about something that can potentially harm you, the better you can prepare for it. Second, it’s about doing what you can to mitigate loss over the long term. Sure the preparedness tips are helpful: stock up on this and that for the storm event itself but what about long term plans to lessen the impacts over time? Simple things like having a generator and knowing how to properly use and maintain it can help to save your refrigerated goods and provide some level of comfort after a landfall. Perhaps it’s getting to know your insurance agent and your policy a little better. Why wait until everyone in your community is calling for help to get to know what’s covered and what’s not? The little things that can be done ahead of the watches and warnings will go a long way in minimizing stress and you may fare a little better because of it.

This season we will be promoting our iPhone (and soon to be released) Android app. It’s called Hurricane Impact and is exactly what it sounds like. We focus on the impact from tropical storms and hurricanes and that’s what it comes down to, right? If they all stayed out to sea, the hurricane app market would be a shadow of what it currently is. Hurricane Impact is affordable at $2.99 in the App Store and will give users a daily video blog, field mission video blogs, live wind and pressure data from our own weather stations, live web cam images and a new and innovative “Surge Cam” that we’ll set up to monitor storm surge along the coast. Add our own tracking maps, blog, Twitter and Facebook feeds and it’s a great addition to your weather apps collection. Click here to get it now.

One this first day of the season I am happy to report that there are no areas of concern in the Atlantic, Caribbean or Gulf. We may see a low pressure area evolve in the Gulf of Mexico later this week but it looks to remain weak and rather disorganized. Still, rain chances may be on the increase for the Florida peninsula as we move through the week so keep an eye out for that.

I’ll be hosting a special live Ustream broadcast on Monday night – 8pm ET – to discuss the season and talk about our plans for field coverage. To watch live, simply go to our Ustream channel: Ustream.tv/hurricanetrack on Monday evening. I will have Mike Watkins and Jesse Bass, both long time colleagues and great friends of mine, on with me to round out the discussions. Hope you can tune in – if not, I’ll save it for later viewing anytime.

I’ll post a blog at least once a day, every day of the season. With that said, I’ll have more tomorrow.

M. Sudduth

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Storm surge is major threat from hurricanes

Storm Surge From Hurricane Isaac in 2012

Storm Surge From Hurricane Isaac in 2012 as captured from one of our older generation Surge Cams. Top image is before Isaac on August 28 while the bottom image is during the height of the surge along the Mississippi coast. The water rose several feet at this location along Gulfport Harbor.

This week is Hurricane Preparedness Week and as such, each day has a topic related to hurricanes and being prepared.

Today’s topic is storm surge – one of the most devastating effects from a tropical cyclone. Historically, storm surge kills more people than any other tropical cyclone hazard. We saw a period of time from 1970 through 2004 when few people lost their lives due to surge. Then, in 2005, Katrina changed all of that with scores of lives lost due to surge from the Missisisppi Sound as well as the catastrophic flooding from storm surge coupled with the failure of New Orleans’ levee system.

Sadly, the trend continued, though not to the same scale fortunately, with Sandy last October as storm surge swept in to areas along the New York and New Jersey coasts. A vast majority of the damage from Sandy was the result of storm surge and battering waves.

Most people do not understand storm surge and how it can affect them. Almost all evacauations in a hurricane are because of the threat of storm surge flooding. Studies are done to predict traffic flow, behavior patterns and response to evacuation orders. In most cases, people will wait as long as possible to determine whether or not the threat to their immediate location is substantial enough to warrant the trouble of leaving. While this is an understandble trait of human nature, it could lead to deadly consequences.

Let’s take hurricane Ike from 2008 as an example. It was an especially large hurricane that generated an enormous surge of water that was quite literally pushed towards the northwest Gulf of Mexico coastline. The NHC had forecast Ike to become an intense category three hurricane for several days before its landfall near Galveston on September 13. Yet, thousands of people remained on Galveston Island despite A) the city’s infamous history with hurricanes and B) the warning that people would face “certain death” if they remained behind.

If someone told you that if you remained in your car on a hot July day with the power off and the windows rolled up that you would face certain death, what would you do? I am guessing that 100% of you would not remain in your car under those conditions. Why? Because you know what will happen. You have felt the car get really hot before and have the A/C to fire up in order to make it tolerable. The point is, you’ve experienced the conditions that could kill you before yet you have the tool (A/C) to mitigate the worst from happening. It is that experience with a very hot car that has taught you not to remain inside of it for any length of time during warm to hot days.

The same cannot be said of storm surge. Most people who live along the coast have never experienced a storm surge from a tropical storm or hurricane. Thus, they have no idea what they’re dealing with. They have not seen it with their own eyes and do not grasp the concept of how much energy moving water has. They are shown maps on TV and the Internet and are told to evacuate. Often times, most people do not unless they sense danger.

I suppose that as Ike approached, some people did not sense any danger and chose to remain behind. The resulting storm surge as at least 20 feet high in some locations with thousands of homes either destroyed or seriously damaged by the flood waters. Lives were lost because people did not evacuate though scores of lives were indeed saved because of adequte warnings and people heeding them.

I guess since seeing is believing that we have to do something to further convince people of how bad storm surge can be.

As I announced in a blog post a few months ago, we are going to provide a publicly accessible, brand new, completely redesigned “Surge Cam” that will stream live video from the teeth of the next hurricane and its storm surge. We have been using an older technology for the past seven seasons that ended with Sandy last October. Now, we have new and more effecient technology that will allow us to place un-manned cameras anywhere we wish with almost no risk to either ourselves or to the equipment. We’ve made a decision to make one of these units available through our public Ustream channel at no cost to those who watch. The idea is to show people the effects of storm surge and convince them through live video that storm surge is a lethal, destructive force. We hope to place the Surge Cam in an area where a significant impact from storm surge is expected. The new camera systems last for at least 30 hours now, allowing us more time to place them in locations that no humans have any business being in as the hurricane and its surge sweep in. Perhaps this will help to motivate people to evacuate and take the appropriate measures to mitigate loss to property as well.

We will have three other Surge Cams dedicated to our Client Services members – after all, it’s their funding that supports this effort in the first place. We just thought it would serve the public and local officials, as well as the media, to provide one Surge Cam feed free of charge. Thanks to advances in technology, we can do that starting this season. Once we have a threat of a landfall, I’ll post the URL of the Surge Cam in a blog post and on our Twitter and Facebook pages. People are encouraged to share and embed the player as much as they wish. Anyone in the media may use the feed on-air and on their websites as they see fit. Just credit HurricaneTrack.com please – that’s all we ask.

It looks like a very busy season ahead. I hope that folks along the coast, especially newcomers, do their part to better understand the risk from tropical storms and hurricanes. For more info, including excellent video resources, check out the NHC’s preparedness page here: NHC Hurricane Preparedness

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Making progress after Sandy

A common sight now in gift shops along the Jersey Shore is this tee-shirt, "Restore the Shore"

A common sight now in gift shops along the Jersey Shore is this tee-shirt, “Restore the Shore”

I spent the day last Friday re-tracing my steps in New Jersey where I was during Sandy last October. It is always an odd feeling to come back to an area that I feel like I have so much invested in emotionally. I knew no one when I arrived early in the morning of October 29, 2012. Now, I have new friends; connections made because of Sandy.

I re-visited the Long Branch and Belmar areas first since it was these two areas that I spent the most time in as Sandy’s effects turned the region in to a disaster area in less than a day. Then, I ventured south to Seaside Heights where it looks as if time has been put in to slow-motion mode. I’ll elaborate on that more later.

My day actually began in New Brunswick where I ended up the night of October 29 after Sandy finally came ashore in southern New Jersey. I was amazed at the amount of tree damage still evident though most of the obvious scars have been removed for the most part. It’s easy to see where there were power failures as brand new power poles, complete with shiny new transformers, pepper the landscape. Ah how I remember watching the grid go down as each brilliant flash of light set the sky ablaze with an eerie blue-white-green hue; a sure sign that more people were just plunged in to darkness.

I traveled along the Raritan River which surged out of its banks, flooding homes and leaving roadways impassable that night. I should know, I had to deal with that in trying to get to my hotel. Had I not been there to see it in person, I may not have believed that storm surge from Sandy had penetrated that far inland – but I was and it did. To me, it still seemed like a wild, fever-induced dream. Being back on this incredible spring day with so much growth and green foliage around me was surreal. It’s like Sandy was already a long lost memory on the landscape.

My next destination was Long Branch. It was here that I set up a remote cam unit- now we call them “Surge Cams”. The boardwalk was intact again though sand and debris was still easy to spot; a telltale calling card of a significant surge event. All around me was the sound of construction. Whether it was bulldozers on the beach or renovation crews trying to bring homes and businesses back to as close as they could to pre-Sandy conditions, the area was alive with rebuilding and moving on.

Not far north of the cam unit location lies the Monmouth Beach Club. This is where I set up the weather station (see the screen shot from our app which captured the last image from the web cam attached to the weather station). Here too was a flurry of activity as construction crews worked like bees in a hive to get things ready for the summer season which was quickly approaching.

It’s the tourist dollars of the summer months that really drives the economic engine down along the coast. It’s no different than say, Orange Beach, AL or Pensacola Beach, FL or Wrightsville Beach, NC. The beach brings the people and with them comes the dollars. There was a sense of urgency in the air as the sand was slipping through the hour glass, about to usher in a new season along the Jersey Shore.

Next up was Belmar. This is where I had one of the most profound experiences I’ve ever had in a hurricane event. I met several people here who relied on me for up to the minute information during the height of Sandy’s onslaught that night. It was by total coincidence that this happened. I was in the right place at the right time and it really helped them to understand what was about to happen, especially with the incoming surge. For my part, the boro saw to it that I met New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie the day after. It was an incredible honor and one that I will not soon forget.

So here I was a little more than six months later. I met up with Belmar police captain Drew Huisman who gave me a tour of the small but diverse city. The recovery efforts are nothing short of remarkable. He told me back in December that they wanted the boardwalk open by Memorial Day. It will open this Wednesday and is a marvel to see in person. Belmar did not wait for aid to come to them. Instead, the leadership stepped up, the people worked together and made it happen. The results are stunning. The city is alive and bustling with so much activity as people come back to the coast that Capt Huisman will need more than two dozen new recruits soon to keep up. Sure there is a long way to go but from the marina along the Shark River to the waterfront bordering the Atlantic, Belmar is back on its feet with an awesome new boardwalk and businesses ready for the summer crowds. It is my opinion that Belmar serves as an example of working together as quickly as possible to make positive things happen. It is a monumental task to come back from an event like Sandy. Ask anyone in Waveland or Bay St. Louis or New Orleans about that. The more people can come together and work together, the less painful the recovery process can be. Want proof? Visit Belmar this year…you’ll see first hand.

Sadly, the trip south was somewhat depressing. It’s like time had stopped in the days after October 29th, 2012. In areas such as Mantoloking, Bay Head and Seaside Heights, the toll of Sandy’s relentless storm surge and pounding waves was still evident more often than not. The washed out shells of homes still lay pretty much where they settled after Sandy slammed ashore last October. It’s not that people aren’t trying, this as an overwhelming disaster that people simply could not prepare for- not on this scale. Each municipality is different with each having their own set of challenges that have been waiting ever since that fateful day.

I was also pleased to see my friend Kathleen Koch, former CNN correspondent and author of Rising from Katrina, was working with mayors and other political figures from Mississippi in conjunction with mayors from various New Jersey towns who are all going through similar situations – just eight years apart. Her idea is to get people together who have been through disasters such as Katrina and Sandy to allow them to help one another avoid pitfalls and endure the relentless stress that the aftermath leaves. This is a great idea and I can only hope it takes off and spreads beyond the hurricane zones as there is much potential from learning from others.

Everyone I have met had a positive, can-do work ethic; knowing that the only way to full recovery is to focus on the future and not dwell on the misery that Sandy left behind. In that regard, the coast will be re-built stronger and thus a new and improved Jersey Shore will rise from the sucker punch that Sandy delivered to the region.

I am proud of what I saw, I really am. People have come together and have done what needs to be done.

Here is a video clip that I shot last Friday from Belmar, NJ:

Next up: NOAA’s Hurricane Season Outlook later this week.

M. Sudduth

 

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East Pacific hurricane season begins today as does my trip to New York and New Jersey

East Pacific invest 90-E

East Pacific invest 90-E

It’s May 15 and that means the east Pacific hurricane season is now underway. Right on cue, a tropical depression appears to be forming well off the coast of Mexico where waters are warm enough to support the deep convection noted in satellite imagery.

All of the forecast models indicate that the developing low pressure area will move westward and away from the Mexican coastline over the next several days.

The east Pacific season begins two weeks ahead of the Atlantic season though both basins see about the same amount of activity per 100 years during this time of the year – so I am not certain as to why the Atlantic season does not officially begin until June 1. In any case, we do have something to monitor on this opening day of the east Pacific season though it poses no threat to land areas at this time.

In other news – I am heading up to New York and New Jersey beginning later this morning. I have a couple of projects to follow up on in New York City tomorrow and then I am going to travel back to coastal New Jersey where I was when Sandy made landfall. I’ll re-trace my steps in Long Branch and Belmar and might get to travel to other places farther south if time permits.

The unique thing about this trip is that I am going to stream the entire journey live on our public Ustream channel. I want to demonstrate our new “everywhere cam” that we’ll be using for our subscriber site this season. We’ll still have a free live camera streaming but it will be a traditional dash-mounted video camera. This new technology is amazing. There’s no laptop needed and the cam is so small and versatile that I can take it anywhere. The audio is incredible as well. I thought it would be great to test it out while showing anyone viewing a little of the East Coast countryside.

Once I get to the Jersey coast on Friday, you’ll want to tune in and see how things have progressed since Sandy. I’ll provide narration and insight as to what the impacts were and where I was and what I was doing back on October 29 of last year. Watch our Twitter feed for updates as to when something really worthwhile is streaming and then tune in by clicking the link below or simply bookmarking our Ustream channel page: Ustream.tv/hurricanetrack

Click here to watch our live Ustream feed

 

My next post will cover some exciting news about our app which is about to have a major update completed. Plus – is an Android version in the works? Check out the blog on Monday to find out.

M. Sudduth

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One month to go until hurricane season and we are getting ready

Welcome to May! Hard to believe we are just a month away from the start of the Atlantic hurricane season. Before then, the east Pacific season begins on May 15, so we will be ramping up our blog posts, etc in the coming weeks.

So what’s new for us in 2013? A lot. Too much to cover in one blog post, so I’ll spread it out over the next couple of weeks.

First, you’ll be hearing a lot more from and about colleague Mike Watkins. He has been working with us since late 2004 and has been with me personally on some of the biggest field missions of my career.

Mike started a new company last year called Hurricane Analytics. It is more than just about hurricanes as Mike is very good at deciphering data, all kinds of data, and making sense of it. However, his tropical weather expertise will allow him to utilize his site for some excellent analysis projects. You may follow Mike and his site on Twitter: @hurricaneanalytics or @watkinstrack

Mike has a new Podcast series called The HurriCast which will provide listeners with a different perspective on tropical weather news and data info. You may find his Podcast linked from the HurricaneAnalytics homepage.

Look for blog posts here from time to time from Mike as well and I too will be guest-blogging for his site. This cross-collaboration will be a nice new touch for our partnership as we go forward in to our ninth year working together.

Today begins our season pass sales for our subscription service

We have had a private subscription service since 2005 and it has grown to include nearly 500 members from around the world. Our annual plan is the most popular, and costs $99.95 per year for unlimited access to all we offer on our Client Services site. However, some folks find that the use the subscription site only during hurricane season. So, since 2011, we have offered a “season pass” for $59.95 and that too has become a successful part of our funding projects each season.

Well, today marks the first day that the pass for 2013 is available for purchase.

This year we are bringing a whole new experience to our members with a brand new live streaming camera system for our field missions. We call it the “everywhere cam” and it will be just that. Using new technology, we will be able to take our members anywhere we go during our field missions. No longer will you have to “wait” in the Tahoe, watching the Tahoe dash cam while we go do something outside of the Tahoe. Whether it be that we are scoping out a place to deploy one of our remote cams or actually setting up a weather station or remote cam, you will be there with us, complete with audio! In the past, we’ve only had our dash-mounted video camera for streaming from the Tahoe. This year, we’ll utilize cutting edge technology to give you a completely immersive experience in to our field work. When we go eat and discuss what’s going on with the hurricane that we are intercepting, you’ll come with us. When we head in to a police department or emergency management office to work with the local officials, you’ll go with us. It will be as if you are truly a part of what we are doing – no longer wondering what we’re up to as you sit and watch the dash cam. This is exclusive to our members and is 100% ad free. The general public will have access to our dash cam that will have commercials playing via Ustream every 12 minutes or so. This is an exciting new feature and we are looking forward to giving you a brand new look at how we do our field missions.
For a sample of how well this cam works, check out this actual recorded stream event from Louisiana back in March just after the National Hurricane Conference which was held in New Orleans:
http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/30534667 (note this has commercials since it was recorded using our public Ustream channel)
In addition to our successful live video streaming capabilities, Client Services members will also enjoy:
  • Stormpulse maps
  • Live chat with other members and us
  • Daily LIVE hurricane outlook videos during the hurricane season (ad free)
  • 30 frame satellite and radar animations
  • Access to mobile device formatted pages, including pages that contain some of our live streaming feeds
  • Access to our three mobile weather stations that we deploy to capture live wind and pressure data
  • Access to our three private Surge Cams – 100% ad free
  • Expert analysis from Mark Sudduth and Mike Watkins throughout the season
  • Complete mission coverage from start to finish of each tropical storm and hurricane we intercept this season
All of this for just $59.95 for the season. To sign up today, use this link: Client Services Season Pass for 2013 Season
On Monday I will talk about our app. I have some much-anticipated news to share and look forward to that post. I think a lot of people will be VERY excited to hear what’s coming….
M. Sudduth
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