A scorpion is always a scorpion

There is a fable that I recall about a frog and a scorpion. The scorpion needs a lift across the river. He asks the frog to help him out. The frog is quite apprehensive because he thinks that the scorpion will most certainly sting him, killing him for sure. He voices this concern to the scorpion who replies, “why would I sting you? You would drown and so would I.” The frog thinks about it for a moment and agrees with that logic, offering the scorpion a ride across the river on his back. Mid-way across, sure enough, the scorpion stings the frog and they both are about to drown when the frog asks, “why did you sting me? Now we both will drown!” As they begin to flail about in the water, losing their last bit of energy fighting the impending doom, the scorpion simply responds, “I am a scorpion, it’s what I do.”

Sandy is a scorpion, always has been and will be until it dissipates from existence. But it is not the same scorpion now that it was a few days ago over the Caribbean. It still packs an incredible sting and this sting is in the form of wind, rain, storm surge and a massive disruption to infrastructure for days to come. Yet Sandy is an evolving scorpion. The changes that are happening involve a different method for it to generate its effects.

When Sandy was a pure hurricane, it had a warm core, the eye, and a ring of deep convection around that eye with intense winds and rain. It released heat that was absorbed from the incredibly warm waters of the Caribbean. Sandy was a powerful hurricane with a lot of heat and energy involved but over a fairly compact area.

Then, it began to change. It is still the same powerful weather machine, it just has a different structure. Its wind field is now gargantuan in size (tropical storm force winds extend out over 500 miles from the center). While it is still generating energy from the warm Atlantic, the atmosphere is also adding some influence. The scorpion is still there, it just has a different look. Sandy is every bit as dangerous, if not more so, now than it was over the Caribbean. Even though it is going through drastic changes in its structure, make no mistake, the end result of widespread damage and possible loss of life is staggering. In fact, a true text-book hurricane would have a much smaller impact area over a much shorter duration of time. It seems that the scorpion has grown in to something much more powerful over time. But it is still every bit as dangerous.

So when the NHC issued their press release about the transition from a tropical cyclone to a post-tropical cyclone, they were not saying that the scorpion became a butterfly. The differences in Sandy’s structure are academic right now. What people need to be concerned with are the effects that Sandy will deliver to the coast over the next two or so days. Prepare for Sandy as you would an August hurricane with a well defined eye coming right at you. Be ready for long-lasting power outages. Prepare your family for the potential of several days without outside help. While not every location in the path of Sandy will be severely affected, at least 50 million people are in harm’s way in some form or another.

The best advice I can give as to how to understand what impact Sandy may have on your life is to search for and then read the local National Weather Service products written specifically for Sandy’s arrival. This info includes tide and coastal flooding data, rain fall data, wind impacts and much more. It’s so simple, go to weather.gov, input your ZIP Code and look for the “Hazardous Weather Conditions” box. It is self explanatory. Read what’s in it. That’s what you need to know in order to gain the understanding needed to prepare for Sandy. Beyond that, there is no cure all for weather forecasting down to your back yard. It’s just not possible yet. Not with a storm of this size and scope. However, you can acquire valuable knowledge about what to expect and when. This info was written by people who live in your community or close by. It’s there to help you understand the hazardous weather that Sandy is bringing.

As for my coverage of Sandy over the duration of its life until landfall – I plan to tackle it in New Jersey.

My hope is to place a remote camera unit in Sea Isle, NJ, one in Atlantic City and one in Long Beach where I would like to also place the weather station. I am working on getting in touch with local officials to help them by providing them with no-cost access to the video feeds and weather data. It is a tough chore as I have never been to this area of the country before, not for a hurricane mission.

I will stream the live Tahoe cam to our subscribers while providing a web cam image on the homepage of the site. Our private clients provide a majority of the funding for our operation and field work so they have exclusive access to our video feeds. The weather data will feed to the Client site as well as to our iPhone app. I will post screen captures of the weather data from the app and post to Twitter as often as possible. I will provide the local NWS and emergency management offices with no-cost access to this data which can help with understanding, in real time, what the actual conditions are in the area.

Along the journey, I will post video blogs to the app on a regular basis. If you have the app, check the “field mission” section of the video page at least once per hour for a new video update. I plan to post several per hour as long as conditions allow.

The next two days are important ones in our history. It will be interesting to see how the public responds to this threat and how the response is handled. I know that there are a lot of questions and concerns about the nature of Sandy and who has responsibility for handling the flow of information. I can say that it is your responsibility to educate yourself – read up on what is going on. Take the initiative to gain the upper hand by learning more about the threat that is looming.

My posts here will be infrequent as there is a lot of work to be done to get ready for Sandy. I encourage you to follow along via Twitter either directly @hurricanetrack or through the dynamic Twitter feed below. I can post quick updates via Twitter in the blink of an eye and when things get really busy out there, that will be a great way to track the info that I am putting out. Best of luck to everyone who has to endure this event. Stay safe, keep your cool and I’ll do what I can to update things from the field!


The Next Three Days

I am in Kill Devil Hills, NC with colleague Jesse Bass. We have set up our weather station and a live streaming camera directly on the ocean front. We can hear the roar of the churned up Atlantic and the wind is whistling through the door of our hotel room with an eerie, constant stream. The air itself is full of mist and spray from the warm waters just tens of yards away from our balcony. A look to the sky reveals a cloud-obscured moon which casts a fantastic halo of ice crystals. The mood is foreboding, no doubt about it.

We will spend tomorrow traveling up and down the fragile stretch of the Outer Banks to observe the effects that Sandy is having on the region. There may be places where the ocean runs in to the streets; perhaps not. We’ll see once we get out there.

By tomorrow night, conditions should be nearing their worst for us here along the Outer Banks. Sandy will be some 200 miles offshore but the winds will reach out like sweeping arms to play with the powerlines, the trees and the ocean. We expect to deal with periods of heavy rain as the western side of Sandy moves past us. By early Sunday, conditions here should improve and we’ll depart the area and head north. Jesse will go back to Portsmouth where he lives to be ready for the effects there. I will likely travel up in to New Jersey but I am not sure where just yet.

At the 48 hour mark, Sandy should be at its greatest distance from the East Coast. After that time, it will turn back westward and begin to pile up the Atlantic in front of itself. The onshore flow of relentless wind will not allow the high tide to escape and the water will rise across a vast portion of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. We won’t know the extent of the threat for another day or so once computer models calculate the inundation levels caused by Sandy and its immense wind field.

By the time we reach the evening of the 29th, Sandy will be moving towards southern New Jersey and the fate of the entire region will be sealed. What happens next is perhaps anyone’s guess. With such a vast expanse of coastline exposed to hurricane conditions, even if Sandy is not purely a hurricane, will be unprecedented. I think of Ike as it closed in on the upper Texas coast, pushing the Gulf of Mexico ahead of it. I think we could see the same type of set up with Sandy. The approach to the coast could be the set up for a major storm surge event. When officials tell you to evacuate for Sandy, you need to do it. The only other choice is to risk drowning in water that will be full of household and industrial debris. You do not want to have to deal with this. If you’re told to leave, do it and hope for the best. The cost of staying and second guessing everything could mean your life.

The other issue near the 72 time frame and beyond will be the inland wind damage that Sandy brings. An unthinkable amount of trees may topple and snap under the crushing wind of the storm system. This will lead to potential record power outages that could leave a lot of people cold of all things in the wake of the storm. Be ready to deal without power and all of the complications that come with that.

Rain fall will also be a big concern. We’re talking about inches of rain coming down across a large swath of the East Coast and points inland. The flood risk is substantial. Be smart and do not drive across flooded roads, even if you know the area well.

I suppose there is also the chance of isolated tornadoes and/or strong downbursts of wind. These phenomenon are impossible to see coming in the computer models. People in the affected areas will just have to pay close attention to official weather sources such as a NOAA Weather Radio. The storm is going to be so dynamic that it could even produce heavy, wet snow for areas in higher elevations away from the coast. When all is said and done, we may look back at Sandy and marvel at how such an event took place. Since we are dealing with a weather system that is extremely rare, there is a lot of uncertainty as to what precisely the next three days has in store for those in Sandy’s path. Maybe it won’t turn out to be so bad. We can hope but as I have said time and again, hope is not a planning tool. Hope is good for the spirit but not for being prepared. Brace yourselves, the next three days could be some of the most important in all of U.S. weather history. One thing is a 100% guarantee: we will find out one way or another within the next 72 hours.

I’ll post more here later today. Be sure to check our Twitter and Facebook pages for short updates and pics/video clips from the Outer Banks. You may also follow our field work through our iPhone app or our subscriber site, Client Services.


Complex weather pattern shaping up for the end of October as MJO arrives

GFS shows chance of heavy rain for portions of the Caribbean islands next week

GFS shows chance of heavy rain for portions of the Caribbean islands next week

The next two weeks or so will likely be characterized by quite a bit of unsettled weather across a good deal of the Caribbean Sea and southwest Atlantic Ocean. The reason? The arrival of the wet phase of the MJO or Madden-Julian Oscillation and the resulting increase in convection across the Caribbean.

As I have been alluding to for some time now, the MJO was forecast to arrive in the western portions of the Atlantic Basin by mid to late October. Well, that seems to be happening now as we are beginning to see an increase in convection from the southeast Pacific to the Caribbean Sea. Over the next several days, a broad area of low pressure at the surface, also known as the monsoon trough, will set up across the southwest Caribbean, extending back to the west in to the east Pacific.

This pattern is very complex and often results in a lot of rain fall for the tropical areas. The result is usually a series of low pressure areas or depressions that form from this “grape vine” that is literally snaking its way across hundreds of miles of the tropics. As such, development is likely to be fairly slow but it is possible that we could have an east Pacific system followed by one in the Atlantic Basin, probably in the western or central Caribbean Sea.

My concern right now is for the heavy rain that seems almost a certainty of taking place. Reading the various NWS forecast discussions gives the notion that several days of heavy rain are possible for areas such as Hispaniola and possibly Cuba and as far east as Puerto Rico. Interests in the region should closely monitor the weather over the next five to ten days as this pattern begins to take shape.

It is also interesting to see how the various global models handle the upcoming pattern with regards to potential impacts to Florida. The GFS shows next to nothing really while the ECMWF forecasts a broad low pressure area to affect much of the peninsula with wind and rain by day ten. Obviously, this is quite far out in time and a lot can change between now and then. I think the bottom line here is that we are about to enter a two week period where a marked increase in convection and associated rain will take place for a wide swath of the Caribbean and southeast Pacific. Beyond that, we’ll just have to wait and see how the monsoon trough plays out and if any single low pressure center can take over and bundle all of the energy that is building across the region.

I’ll have regular updates each day here followed by the daily video blog posted to our iPhone app.


As we end September, tropics look to remain peaceful

I am on the road in Florida shooting interviews for our upcoming documentary due out in March. However, it is still hurricane season so let’s take a look at what’s going on across the tropics today.

Nadine is still on the maps as a moderate tropical storm. The forecast keeps Nadine around for the next five days as it moves over warmer sea surface temps. However, increasing shear should eventually take over and hopefully weaken the storm enough to dissipate it. We shall see, Nadine has been around for a while now.

Elsewhere in the Atlantic, all is quiet with no areas of development expected nor seen in the various global model forecasts. While October can be a busy month, I do not see much to suggest that we will see any significant development over the next week to 10 days. Once we get in to mid-October, that could change but we’re talking almost three weeks away.

In the eastern Pacific, Miriam is weakening and is no longer forecast to impact the Baja peninsula as the low level center will fade westward as the mid and upper level energy gets sheared off and heads in to Mexico, bringing some rain but that’s about it.

I’ll post more tomorrow as I continue to travel around Florida.


New hurricane documentary in the works; hoping for your help to support it

It has been four years since I last produced a DVD about hurricanes. The “Tracking the Hurricanes” trilogy has proven to be very successful and I still get orders from them from people all over the world. Many of the chapters from the DVDs are on YouTube and some have had over 600,000 views. I enjoy making the programs that tell the stories of our work during those incredible seasons of 2004, 2005 and 2008. Now it is time for something new.

I have begun working with colleague Mike Watkins to produce The Hurricane Highway. It will be a documentary that takes a look at the people, the places and the hurricanes that have come to define our generation in profound ways. The project will explore the nature of why we are so fascinated by hurricanes and how little we still understand them.

It will also dig deep in to the history of the modern hurricane era through stories from the people who have lived through the likes of Fran, Isabel, Charley, Ivan, Katrina, Rita, Ike and Isaac. This will not be about survival. We’ve seen those stories. This will be about life after the hurricanes. There are stories out there that will amaze and move you. We have met people along our journeys down this highway that have more strength in them than I could ever hope to have. I want to make sure their triumphs over such calamity are not lost with the passage of time.

We will also talk about technology and how it has both helped and hindered the effort to warn people and spread a culture of preparedness instead of one of reacting after the fact.

You will hear from some big names in the business of hurricanes and weather. You’ll also hear from people who live in small coastal towns that were virtually unheard of until Katrina or Ivan or similar hurricane events.

Hurricanes are a part of American history whether we like it or not. They shape our economy, sometimes suddenly (think gas prices after Katrina). Politics and hurricanes are the topic of many a Sunday news magazine show. We won’t delve too much in to politics but we know the history and the lessons learned from past responses by the government.

Our goal will be to take you down the Hurricane Highway and show you a side to the hurricane phenomenon that you have never seen before. Through the use of archival footage and compelling stories from real people who endure long after the wind dies down, you will be moved by what you see and hear.

The documentary will be made available on DVD video as well as put on to the iTunes store and hopefully other Internet-based movie sources.

The release date has not been determined yet but it will be no later than March 1, 2013. If all goes REALLY well, it could be as soon as this December. A lot of the footage we already have from past hurricanes. The tough part will be getting the interviews done and editing it all together with our own original music score (I do the music myself for all of our DVDs). There’s a chance that luck will be with us and we get it done before Christmas – which would be great. If not, we want to do it right and will wait until March 1 for an official release. Either way, I’ll keep you posted.

We are very excited about the project and will certainly be calling upon our audience for ideas, possible interview topics etc. We may even need help locating certain people whom we ran across many moons ago and would like to talk to now to see how things are going. Mike and I will shoot in Florida, the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas over the next 4 to 6 weeks. We will have meet and greets along the way to say hello to folks in person who have followed our work all these years.

We know we have a loyal following who have enjoyed our DVDs from the past. With this in mind, I have a unique offer to help raise the $$$ needed to fund this project. For the first 100 people who purchase a copy in advance, as in now, you will receive a credit in the DVD ending credits. Your name, or the name of a loved one, will appear in a “Special Thanks Go To Those Who Supported This Project” as the ending credits roll. In addition, you will receive an autographed copy of the DVD along with a gorgeous 11″ by 17″ movie poster of the artwork for the project. The cost is only $29.95 and the investment can be used immediately by us to get started with shooting, travel and other expenses related to producing an independent film. If you wish to contribute more, by all means feel free to do so. Simply send to our PayPal address: posters@hurricanetrack.com with a note that you wish to support the project.

The Hurricane Highway advance order page.

The Hurricane Highway

The Hurricane Highway