Seven days in August: Day 1 – Katrina a milestone for us

There will be a lot of stories about Katrina in the coming days. Most will reflect on the horror that the hurricane brought to so many people. Some will shed light on the heroes that helped to make things better, even if it took longer than people had hoped. All of the stories matter and everyone is lumped in together when it’s all said and done. Our story, however, is a little different. It is about technology, trial by fire, success and failure, all wrapped in to one seven day journey that would lead us in to the most destructive hurricane in U.S. history.

Satellite photo of TS Katrina on the day I left NC for FL

Satellite photo of TS Katrina on the day I left NC for FL

It begins today, minus ten years. Today marks the first time that Katrina had a name. The National Hurricane Center upgraded TD12 to Katrina on their 11am ET advisory package. The forecast brought Katrina across south Florida and then in to the southeast Gulf of Mexico. It was what we call a “two for one” mission. Those are rare but when they happen, they present a great deal of hurdles that must be overcome. Before we get started, let’s take a look back at 2005 from a technology perspective.

Up until the 2004 hurricane season, the team and I literally put ourselves out in harm’s way to collect wind data, pressure data and video/pictures of hurricane effects. After a harrowing experience with hurricane Charley we decided it was time to use modern technology to get close to hurricanes while keeping our rear-ends safer.

We used Hi-8 video cameras shoved in to Scuba diving housings to record hurricanes Frances and Ivan at point blank range. We did so using a retired Isuzu Rodeo as the “crash test dummy” with Hurricane Ivan being the final ride.

The 2005 season gave us an opportunity to try something new: live video, with audio, everywhere we took the Tahoe during a mission. This was made possible due to the growing speed of Sprint’s 3G network. We used Windows Media Encoder, a JVC video camera connected via Firewire to my Sony Vaio and had an instant new way for people to follow our work.

We tested the project during tropical storm Arlene in June and then again during hurricane Dennis in July. It seemed that 90% of the places we would need to be in a hurricane were covered by Sprint and thus, we began a new era in our capabilities for HurricaneTrack.com.

Putting our collective heads together, we came up with the idea of developing a sort-of “black box” for hurricane effects. If we could stream live from the Tahoe, why not do it from small self-contained units that we could leave out in the hurricane, allowing us to bring live video to anyone watching while keeping us safe? All we needed was a way to power the equipment and a box to keep it all dry and we would be set.

After launching what is now known as a “crowdfunding” campaign in early August 2005, I had the capital to invest in the project. My promise to those who “subscribed” to the service was innovative live video from up to three camera systems (plus the Tahoe dash-cam) that we would stream exclusively for their viewing. I purchased three of everything that I needed and began to piece it all together, waiting for the next chance to come along to test it. I never would have thought that it would be a hurricane the likes of Katrina, but that’s exactly what happened.

Now, back to August 24, 2005. I had many conversations with colleague Jesse Bass about coming with me to Florida and eventually the Gulf Coast. His full time job simply did not allow him to be gone that long which was understood and part of the way we had to deal with things. Not many people get to do what I do as their career and being able to just up and leave for a hurricane intercept is tough. Jesse was out but our new colleague, Mike Watkins from south Florida, was in. He would be able to take time off from his work at Office Depot HQ to accompany me on this historic mission, at least in south Florida. I packed the Tahoe with gear, which included three brand new “Surge Cams” ready to go. My sights were set on south Florida, probably the Deerfield Beach area. I knew a gentleman from the old Project Impact days from FEMA who could help me gain access to the pier where I wanted to place one of our Surge Cams.

I also spoke with Jim Reed, an accomplished storm chaser and photographer from Kansas (and sometimes South Carolina) about working with me to document Katrina along the Gulf Coast. He was very interested in our project with the remote cams and had to figure out his game plan as well. There were a lot of things going on in each of our lives that ultimately shaped our destinies in the final story of Katrina. We would remain in touch as the days went by, formulating a plan to meet up, most likely in Gulfport, Mississippi.

I departed Wilmington, North Carolina in the late afternoon with a live feed running from my dashboard camera. There were about 30 people watching that day. It was remarkable to be able to talk to them “over the air” as I drove down I-95 towards Florida. Some would email me with questions or words of encouragement. There was no Twitter, no iPhone, no Facebook (not like now anyway). But there was just enough mobile broadband via Sprint for me to eek out a live video/audio stream that broke new ground. I had no idea of just how much of an impact it would have and the challenges that would lie ahead.

Evening set in and the night grew long as I finally arrived in Titusville, FL around 2am ET on the 25th. Katrina was edging closer to the coast while intensifying over the warm Atlantic waters. I checked in to the hotel and got some much needed sleep. In roughly eight hours, I would have to be up and on the road to meet up with Mike in Ft. Lauderdale for day two.

To be continued tomorrow….

M. Sudduth

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Danny no longer a tropical cyclone while 98L gathers strength

The NHC issued the last advisory on Danny this morning as the one-time category three hurricane fully succumbed to the hostile conditions of the Caribbean Sea. The remnants of the storm are moving through the region now with a few squalls and not much else. Unfortunately, the much needed rain will be hard to come by and short lived.

We’ll continue to track the left overs of Danny but odds are nothing more will come of the system as it heads west across the Caribbean this week.

Satellite photo showing 98L over the tropical Atlantic. It is likely going to become a tropical depression later today

Satellite photo showing 98L over the tropical Atlantic. It is likely going to become a tropical depression later today

The next area of interest is invest 98L out over the tropical Atlantic. It is almost certainly going to be classified as a tropical depression later today or tonight.

Water temps are plenty warm, shear is light and dry air is not much of an issue right now and as such most intensity guidance suggests that 98L will go on to become the second hurricane of the season.

I find this to be extremely interesting because of where this would happen. Most of the expert predictions for the season made their case for the MDR or Main Development Region to be very hostile tropical storms and hurricanes this year. Until Danny, that was very much the case. However, in recent weeks, water temperatures across the MDR have warmed to at least normal levels if not slightly above. I believe this has allowed for what we saw with Danny and will soon see with 98L as it ramps up and becomes our next named storm: Erika.

Latest forecast plots from the various computer models for 98L

Latest forecast plots from the various computer models for 98L

The forecast models indicate a general west to west-northwest track over the next five days putting it in a position fairly close to the northeast Caribbean Sea. This system is moving a lot faster than Danny was so it will cover more distance over the next several days. Interests in the northeast Caribbean should pay close attention to the progress of 98L over the next few days. We’ll know a lot more once the NHC upgrades it to TD #5 which I think will happen later today.

Elsewhere, the Atlantic Basin has no other issues to be concerned with.

Meanwhile, the east Pacific remains quite busy but any areas that develop will be far from land and remain that way for the time being.

I’ll have a video blog posted later this afternoon along with a separate blog post looking back at Katrina 10 years ago and how we handled this very important event.

M. Sudduth 12:30 PM ET Aug 24

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Danny will bring some rain (not nearly enough), a little wind but not much else

Recent satellite photo of TS Danny. You can clearly see the low level center becoming exposed on the southwest side of the storm

Recent satellite photo of TS Danny. You can clearly see the low level center becoming exposed on the southwest side of the storm

Danny is getting closer to the Lesser Antilles and will pass through over the next day with little more than some passing squalls and increased surf. The one-time category three hurricane is now fully engaged with stronger upper level winds than it can handle, coupled with drier mid-level air. This has led to quite a weakening trend which was exactly what was forecast to happen as of late.

For interests in the Caribbean, Danny will bring much needed rain but it won’t even begin to put a dent in the long-term drought that has affected the region. I suppose every drop counts and it’s better than nothing and certainly better than say, a category three hurricane bearing down.

I think it is safe to say that Danny will be all but gone by mid-week, chewed up by strong upper level winds and running over land that will further gut the storm down to little more than a low level swirl. That’s the circle of life in the tropics sometimes.

Meanwhile, we will need to be watching invest area 98L quite closely in the coming days as it looks to be well on its way to becoming a tropical depression. The models are not much help. One run can show a significant hurricane heading west while another run has barely anything at all. The only sure thing is that it is far from land and we have plenty of time to monitor its progress as the new week begins.

In other news, it was 10 years ago today that I began my planning for what would become hurricane Katrina. There is a lot that will be said by many people who had to deal with not only that historic hurricane but also the unprecedented 2005 season as a whole. I will have a separate blog post on this topic later in the coming week.

M. Sudduth 4:50 PM ET August 23

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Danny prompts tropical storm watch for portions of Caribbean islands

Danny put on quite a show yesterday, becoming the first major hurricane to form in the MDR or Main Development Region in quite some time. Its small size almost certainly aided in its impressive strengthening, shielding the tiny core from any dry air intrusions.

Things are different today for Danny as it heads in to a region where stronger upper level winds will pound away at the deep convection located around the center. This will also help to force drier mid level air in to the core which will induce fairly rapid weakening. As such, Danny is forecast to be of tropical storm intensity once it reaches the vicinity of the Caribbean Sea. In response to this forecast, several governments of a handful of Caribbean islands have issued a tropical storm watch (see graphic). This does not mean the center of Danny is expected to pass over any particular location but rather that tropical storm conditions are possible within the watch area within the next 48 hours.

I think that most people in the region will welcome Danny because of one major benefit that it will bring: rain. The Caribbean is going through a serious drought right now and any rain will at least curb the situation even if only a little bit. Fortunately, Danny is not a large, moisture-rich hurricane and thus it won’t be able to dump more rain than the region can handle. Perhaps this truly will be a small blessing for the region as Danny passes by over the next few days.

The forecast is interesting beyond the next three days as models have shifted the track of Danny more north with time. In fact, it won’t surprise me at all to see Danny’s center miss the Caribbean islands entirely. This would keep what ever center remains intact after doing battle with the dry air and shear over very warm water. That is probably going to be the only plus in Danny’s favor as most of the reliable computer guidance strongly suggests that Danny will weaken to a tropical depression and likely dissipate in to a trough of low pressure as it travels close to the southern Bahamas. It goes without saying, you never just ignore a tropical system in late August in the southwest Atlantic – we’ll see what happens with the modeling in the coming days but odds favor Danny being very weak to non-existent by early next week.

Meanwhile, another area not too far off the African coast is being monitored for possible development over the coming days. Water temps are plenty warm and it seems that the dry air is not much of an issue over much of the tropical Atlantic right now so we may see a period of time with several named storms coming up as we head in to September. So far, with the exception of Danny, none pose a threat to land and all will give us plenty of time to monitor.

Out in the central Pacific, tropical storm Kilo has managed to kick up quite a bit of buzz about being a possible threat to Hawaii. So far, it looks like the storm (and probably a hurricane at some point) will track well west of the string of islands before it turns back to the north and east. Of course, it needs to be monitored to make sure that does in fact happen. Hurricanes approaching from the south are much more likely to impact Hawaii than those tracking in from the east. Hurricane Iniki in 1992 comes to mind but it looks like Kilo won’t be a repeat of that event.

I’ll have a Saturday edition of my video blog posted later this afternoon and will go over in great detail what the impacts from Danny are likely to be for the Caribbean.

M. Sudduth 1:35 PN ET August 22

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