Computer model plots for Norbert show a distinct turn towards the Southwest United States
I have been in hurricanes from Texas to New Jersey and most states in between. I even traveled to Maine in 2008 for the off-chance one would venture in to that area. It didn’t pan out. The quest, however, is always the same: to get up close and then document the effects of tropical cyclones on us mere humans and the landscape we dwell upon.
One big problem that I see when dealing with tropical cyclones is the fact that people generally don’t understand their true nature. The news headlines are usually about the wind and the storm surge. However, other hazards often cause problems but are rarely talked about until they show up as being a problem. Case in point: hurricane Marie recently in the east Pacific. The swells it generated caused damage along portions of the southern California coastline. While it was a well documented and talked about event by the local National Weather Services, The Weather Channel and local news outlets, how many people truly knew it was coming? My guess, not many, save for a few die-hard surfers who are in tune with the sea like few people are.
Let’s take another example. Fay in 2008 in Florida. The tropical storm never made it to hurricane intensity but it dumped copious amounts of rain on the Melbourne area, inundating homes and businesses. There are others such as Allison in 2001 which drowned a good deal of Houston in relentless rain.
My point is that tropical cyclones have effects that are often overlooked by the public until those effects become a painful reality and something bad happens.
Norbert could be one of those situations for parts of the Southwest U.S.
As such, I am going to be working with The Weather Channel to document the effects, even if indirectly related to the hurricane, of Norbert over the coming days. I am also a weather geek at heart and have always wanted to venture out of my comfort zone of East Coast or Gulf Coast action. Now is my chance.
The plan is complex. I am heading to Houston in the morning to meet up with a good friend, supporter and technical adviser of our work, Kerry Mallory. He happens to live in Houston and has been an integral part of our HURRB research balloon project and, as of late, the new Drifting Surge Cam project. Kerry will be my wheels. I will airline out with me some of the equipment we use to capture storm surge effects along the coast. It’s so small now that I can easily check it as baggage and bring several items with me.
The idea is to head west on I-10 in to New Mexico. Moisture streaming in from Norbert is expected to result in heavy rains for parts of the region. I want to use time lapse to capture the thunderstorm development as well as be ready in case we encounter flash flooding from the tropical downpours that are forecast to affect the area. Using our unmanned cameras, we can monitor these effects safely, providing live video to The Weather Channel in the process.
Some reports I read from NWS discussion suggest upwards of 5 inches of rain for some areas, especially in the mountains. Imagine being able to capture a dry or low water level stream suddenly roaring to life with a surge of water! We can do that using unmanned cameras, just like we do for storm surge. We can also fly above the torrents of water with our quadcopter to capture the view from the air. The technology keeps us a safe distance away while being able to document the effects in a unique way.
We will spend Saturday in New Mexico and Arizona, looking for possible flash flood situations. It appears that the southern regions of those states will be most at risk but this can change so we’ll be on top of it with constant info coming in to us.
To help out if needed, our good friend and technical adviser from Nevada, Paul Bowman, will be available to meet us in southern Arizona so that Kerry and I can continue west to our final destination.
Hurricane Marie sent substantial swells in to parts of southern California last week, resulting in damage and even injuries to people who were not prepared. It was amazing to see the pictures and video coming out of the region. A similar but less dramatic swell event unfolded along a good deal of the East Coast at the same time as a result of hurricane Cristobal. I got out and documented that as did our colleague Jesse Bass from Portsmouth, Virginia. It wasn’t too much of a coastal erosion or flooding event but it served as a reminder of how passing tropical cyclones can have an impact on the coast.
Our final goal will be to document and study the swells from Norbert in southern California. Using the new Drifting Surge Cam, itself armed with plenty of GPS tracking technology, Kerry and I hope to deploy it a mile or so out in the Pacific and let the swells bring it in. We can track it in real time using satellite tracking plus we’ll have a data logger inside for precise GPS information on how the waves progressed.
Oh, and it will be streamed LIVE from the unit itself – from the Pacific, within the swells! The DSC is equipped with a GoPro which will record up to 13 hours of HD video. Its other “eye” is a live streaming cam, with audio, that will give us a look at the swells from within the swells. I have always had a fascination with the big waves that a hurricane generates and sends out hundreds of miles from its core. Now we can study it like never before and show people what it looks and sounds like. All we need is a little luck and for Norbert to continue on as forecast. We’ll likely set up in the Long Beach area but will narrow it down more tomorrow and in to the weekend.
All of our video will be shown exclusively on The Weather Channel. We may be able to document quite a bit or it may turn out to be nothing more than a long ride in the truck! Chances are, we come away with some new data, exciting video perspectives and a chance to show people that tropical cyclones are much more than wind speed and categories.
I begin the quest tomorrow in Wilmington, NC where I board a plane at 7:30 AM. From there, it’s new and uncharted territory but the reward is that my team and I capture this rare event, a tropical cyclone affecting the Southwest, in a unique and safe manner. I’ll post updates on Twitter and our new Instagram account (@hurricanetrack) and of course, to our app, Hurricane Impact.
It’s going to be a long and interesting several days ahead. Wish us luck, we may need it!
M. Sudduth 11:15 PM ET Sept 4