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


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

Hurricane unprepared: we don’t prepare for what we don’t understand

Hurricane Hugo in 1989

Hurricane Hugo in 1989

It is that time of year again. We start hearing more and more about the upcoming hurricane season. News articles are released highlighting the potential for the season: will it be quiet or busy? What does that even mean? Most people have no idea.

Soon, the TV hurricane specials will air, printed hurricane guides will grace the check-out lanes at your local grocery store or big box retailer. All of this material is intended to help get you prepared for the season ahead. Unfortunately, none of the material can give you what you really need and that is experience and thus understanding. This is why, in my opinion, most people do not prepare adequately – they simply have no hurricane motivation; they have not been in one previously to fully understand the ramifications of not preparing for the next one.

Experience is our best teacher. This is proven time and again in just about anything we deal with in life. The more we experience something, the better we are at dealing with it in most cases.

Think about Florida for a moment. It has been over eight years since any hurricane what so ever has directly impacted the state. The last one was Wilma in late October of 2005. Anyone born in the state since then has zero hurricane experience. Anyone who moved to Florida since 2005 likely has zero hurricane experience. So why would we expect these people to prepare in such a way as to deem them “hurricane prepared”? They have little to no idea what it’s like and thus no measuring stick to gauge their own risk. Television meteorologists and printed hurricane guides can show mountains of video, computer graphics and more to drive the point home but I believe the lack of preparedness is directly related to the lack of true understanding of what hurricanes are all about.

While education is very helpful, I think that the vast majority of coastal dwellers will not fully grasp the risks they face when dealing with hurricanes unless they have been in one, especially a high-impact event like Katrina or Andrew. This makes perfect sense. People in coastal Mississippi who have lived there for a while know hurricanes and they prepare for them. On the other hand, how many people in New Jersey or New York really understood what was about to happen when Sandy was approaching? Time and time again we heard the reports of how surprised people were in the wake of Sandy. It’s all based on experience. This is not difficult to figure out. And so I cannot really find fault with people who do not prepare to the extent that we hope they would. What motivation do they have to prepare for something that they don’t truly understand? Very little….until it happens to them.

As we inch ever closer to June 1 and the official start of the Atlantic hurricane season, I offer this advice for people who live in harm’s way. Talk to those who have been through a hurricane – especially a significant hurricane. Ask them what it was like, not just the effects but the stress of dealing with everything before, during and after. Perhaps some of their experience can translate to you and give you just enough motivation to do something, anything, to lessen the effects of the next hurricane on you and your family. History is a great learning tool and America’s hurricane history is profoundly rich with stories from legendary hurricanes of the past. Read about them and then try to project those scenarios on your life. Can you handle a modern day Galveston 1900 storm? What about a Camille? Andrew? Hugo? Those events really happened and although they are in the past, they all have the ability to transcend time to teach us something.

I worry about how long we have gone without a true intense hurricane impacting the United States. Are we ready to deal with plucking people from rooftops? Do we have enough supplies to feed and shelter potentially tens of thousands of people left homeless by the next Andrew or Katrina? Are local, state and federal officials prepared? How much hurricane experience do they have? It’s been a while folks and even though we would rather go forever without there being another hurricane landfall, we know that won’t happen. The hurricane clock is ticking, even if it does so in silence. None of us knows when the alarm will sound and I assure you, there is no snooze button. Take it from me, you had best do what you can to try and understand hurricanes and their hazards now, before one comes knocking on your door.

Hurricane season begins June 1. National Hurricane Preparedness Week kicks off May 25. Use that time to learn about hurricanes, know their history, know their impacts. As the classic G.I. Joe saying goes, “Knowing is half the battle”.

M. Sudduth 8:15 AM May 1

New method of observing and understanding storm surge

In 2005, Mike, Jesse and I worked to develop a remotely operated unmanned camera system that could be placed out in a hurricane to capture and stream the effects. Mike and I first deployed the system during the infamous hurricane Katrina in Gulfport, Mississippi. Katrina won – for the most part. We didn’t give up and used the encouragement from people such as Max Mayfield to continue refining the project and eventually have a successful deployment.

Since that fateful day in late August of 2005, we have placed the so-called Surge Cam in numerous hurricanes with spectacular results. The best example is from Ike in 2008 along Galveston’s coast. In fact, we had three Surge Cams streaming live, covering nearly 15 miles of the region.

The video that is streamed live gives the public, media and emergency management a real-time look at what is actually happening as the surge progresses. The archival video yields valuable data in the form of understanding the process of storm surge, how fast it inundates the coast and what the flow of water, and the debris within it, is like. Using time lapse to speed up the action gives us a unique look at patterns that ultimately tells us how storm surge behaves. In the end, it aids in demonstrating to the public just how dangerous storm surge is and why measures must be taken to protect life and mitigate property damage.

Over the years we have worked to make the Surge Cams more efficient and far easier to deploy. The live video feeds have become spectacular as wireless data has become more robust. We can thank Sprint for their support of these efforts dating back more than a decade.

Now it is time to take a new approach- one that will change how we view storm surge in a very profound way.

Drifting Surge Cam

Drifting Surge Cam

Today, while attending the National Tropical Weather Conference in South Padre Island, Texas, I am pleased to introduce you to our newest project: the Drifting Surge Cam (DSC). What is it? Quite simply- a pair of high-tech eyes accompanied by an assortment of data recording devices, to be placed untethered where storm surge flooding is expected to occur.

The DSC will be placed just inland from the oceanfront and the breaking wave zone. As the surge begins to inundate the area, the DSC will begin to float. As the water rises, the device will float along, pushed by the wind and flow of water. It will go where ever the surge takes it. All the while, one camera will stream live video with audio as a second cam, a GoPro, records the event in stunning HD. We will experience the storm surge from an incredible perspective as it happens.

Meanwhile, GPS recording equipment inside the DSC will capture position plots every five seconds. This will tell us volumes about the flow of the surge, how fast debris moves, and how high the water rose.

In addition, pressure and temperature sensors will record data every six seconds further enhancing our data set of the hurricane as it makes landfall.

How will we find the DSC once the hurricane passes? We learned during Katrina that losing the Surge Cams was in fact possible given the amount of damage that accompanies such an extreme event. We have satellite based tracking that will tell us the precise location of the DSC every 2 1/2 minutes. We also have radio based tracking technology in case the unit does not have a clear view of the sky. If we can get to within a half mile of it, we can “hear” it talking to a hand held radio and zero in on its resting place. Who knows? It may still be streaming live, providing us with clues as to where it ended up.

The chance for discovery through this project, much like our HURR-B weather balloon project, is exhilarating to think about.

For the public, media and local officials, the DSC becomes an important tool for knowing precisely when the surge has begun to inundate an area. Seeing, and hearing, the surge from just inches on top of it is incredible to think about. Who knows what we will see and hear as it drifts along, getting  pounded by debris in the water, relentless wind and swirling, angry water. It could be perhaps a little unnerving to witness the lethal power of storm surge from this perspective.

In the end, we believe that the use of the DSC will help to motivate people to take action and evacuate when told to do so. We will be able to employ the use of video to help determine accurate water levels as the unit moves along about its journey within the surge. This can aid in the “wind vs water” issues that often arise during extreme surge events. The possibilities are numerous and we hope that the DSC will function as another resource for contributing to the science of hurricanes.

How can you see it when we deploy it? Easy. We have chosen to make the live feed available free of any cost for anyone to view through our public Ustream feed. Media interests are encouraged to link to, share or embed the live feed as you see fit. This device can show people who have no idea of what storm surge is capable of just how bad it can be. That, in turn, may be just what it takes to convince them to leave for higher ground while doing what they reasonably can to mitigate property damage.

We will schedule a live test of the DSC on our Ustream channel sometime later this month in Mason’s Inlet along the north end of Wrightsville  Beach, NC. This will provide an excellent simulation of advancing storm surge on an incoming tide. I will post more details about the test later next week.

For now, check out this video of a test that we conducted back in February in Galveston, TX. It is remarkable to me how incredibly buoyant the DSC is. Even fairly large breakers could not flip it or submerge it- not the least little bit. The test exceeded our expectations and gives us confidence that we will have a successful deployment one day – when the time comes. Special thanks goes to Kerry Mallory for braving the chilly Gulf to take the DSC out more than 200 feet on its first test.

Any questions? Shoot me an email:

I will post more on this new project soon.

M. Sudduth April 11




National Tropical Weather Conference kicks off next week in Texas

National Tropical Weather Conference

National Tropical Weather Conference

It’s getting closer to hurricane season. Yes, despite the harsh winter that the Lower 48 endured, hurricane season still begins on June 1 for the Atlantic Basin. Therefore, it is time to start planning and preparing for what may lie ahead. One effort to do just that begins next week in south Texas: the National Tropical Weather Conference.

This particular conference focuses on the broadcast meteorology field, an important ally in relaying hurricane information to the public.

The conference director, Alex Garcia, told me in a recent email interview that the conference officially began last year as a continuation of what was the Bahamas Hurricane Conference – put on by the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism. Here is that interview:

MARK: When did the National Tropical Weather Conference begin and why?

ALEX GARCIA: In years past The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism would sponsor a three day conference focused on Tropical Meteorology for Broadcast Meteorologists.  It was a great way to get a complete update for the upcoming hurricane season.  Topics included, storm surge modeling, forecasting, watches/warnings dissemination, mitigation programs, forecasting and much more.  Additionally, it provided an opportunity to meet and interview the top names in tropical meteorology, mitigation and preparedness.  In, 2010, the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism announced they would not have the 2011 conference.  Tim Smith and I felt we had to find a way to bring it back and the National Tropical Weather Conference was born.

MARK: Who benefits from the conference?

ALEX GARCIA: The primary group that benefits from this conference are the broadcast meteorologists that attend.  They gain important knowledge about the upcoming hurricane season that they can take back and share with their viewers. The knowledge includes the latest forecasting techniques, disaster preparedness, social media communications, hurricane special production, mitigation elements, and much more. They also have the opportunity to interview conference speakers for their hurricane specials and to go “live” in their hometown weathercasts from the conference to raise awareness about hurricane safety.  A secondary group to benefit is the South Padre Island Convention and Tourist Bureau.  The coverage and live shots from the conference provide an excellent venue for highlighting the island.

MARK: Tell me about this year’s highlights? Who will be speaking?

ALEX GARCIA: The highlight this year is the announcement of the Hurricane Seasonal Forecast made by Dr. Bill Gray and Dr. Phil Klotzbach “live” at the first session of the conference.  Dr. Gray will also be honored and presented the first Robert and Joanne Simpson Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Field of Tropical Meteorology.

Other highlights include a Director’s Panel featuring Directors of the National Hurricane Center that will include Dr. Richard Knabb, Neil Frank, Max Mayfield, and Bill Read.  The National Tropical Weather Conference is the only conference that features a number of former directors in its program.  Additionally, Dr. Frank will make a special presentation on the Bolivar Peninsula.  Other highlights include presentations from Tim Marshall, wind engineer and wind damage specialist, Trenise Lyons from the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, and special luncheon address from Jack Williams, author of the USA Today’s Weather Book and John Coleman, founder of the Weather Channel.

MARK: How do you see the conference growing in the years to come?

ALEX GARCIA: We envision a healthy rate of growth in the coming years.  The 2014 conference will be our second conference with twenty-nine broadcast meteorologists attending.  This represents a 140% increase from our first year.  Our conference is focused on the needs of the broadcast meteorologist and we plan to refine the topics keep a sharp focus on the items and information they need.  We also plan to reach out to meteorologists in countries like the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Mexico and others that have hurricane impacts.  Our goal is to get 100 broadcast meteorologists at the conference.


The conference will also feature several speakers, such as Jim Edds of, Jason Dunion from the University of Miami, Lew Fincher of Hurricane Consulting, Inc, Nate Johnson from WRAL-TV in Raleigh, Derek Ortt from Impact Weather, storm chasers Skip Talbot and Jennifer Brindley Ubl, Lucas Macdonald from Walmart’s Emergency Operations Center. I will be co-presenting with colleague Mike Watkins on our work intercepting hurricanes and the data that we have collected over the past decade. For a full list of the speakers, click here.

I would also like to note that Mike and I will be unveiling a brand new project at the conference. It is something that we feel will be a major step forward in understanding storm surge effects from an entirely different perspective. Our presentation will end with the announcement of this new project. I will have a special blog post about the project that will go live during our presentation. I am very excited about this and cannot wait to share it with not only the conference attendees but our followers as well.
Hurricane season will be upon us in less than 60 days. Whether or not it is an active year with a lot of overall activity matters little. What does matter is the impact to YOU. This conference, along with several others around the country that will take place over the coming weeks, is an excellent example of team work, leadership and proactive steps being taken before a storm comes knocking. I will post updates and interviews from the conference here and in our app – Hurricane Impact. Remember, it has a convenient video section where you can catch the latest video blogs or updates, anytime, anywhere.
A special thank you goes to Alex Garcia for taking the time to answer my email interview questions. Mike and I both look forward to attending this important forum and are honored to be among the featured speakers.
I will have more here late next week from South Padre Island, Texas.
Visit the official site of the National Tropical Weather Conference
M. Sudduth 9:10 AM EDT April 2