Flooding along the Neuse River in Smithfield as seen from one of our unmanned camera units placed there yesterday afternoon. Watch the LIVE cam here: Smithfield, NC along Neuse River
Matthew is gone, part of hurricane history now but its impacts will linger for days, weeks and even years across many locations of the Southeast. As bad as it was, I cannot emphasize enough how close the United States came to seeing catastrophic damage and likely significant loss of life. Matthew managed to keep the core of the strongest winds just offshore of the Florida and Georgia coastlines and was weakening as it did so. Just a 20-30 mile westerly change in its course would have resulted in massive wind damage, a storm surge like we have not seen since Sandy and maybe even Katrina and power outages that would have boggled the mind. To say we were lucky is putting it mildly but what did happen is bad enough and we are dealing with the effects even as skies have cleared and cooler temperatures have moved in.
The most serious threat from Matthew’s relentless rain will be continued river flooding across parts of eastern North Carolina and northeast South Carolina. Several river gauge sites are in major flood stage with more expected to reach that point in the days ahead. Visit the link below to view gauge data and learn more about the expected impacts from the various river systems that are expected to flood as the week progresses:
Latest track map for Nicole indicating a threat to Bermuda late week.
The next area of concern will be Bermuda as tropical storm Nicole gathers strength in the wake of hurricane Matthew. Upper level winds are forecast to become favorable and this will allow Nicole to become a hurricane again, probably a category two, as it approaches Bermuda late in the week. It’s still too soon to predict just how close Nicole will track to Bermuda but the models are in fairly good agreement on quite a close call, if not a direct hit, by Friday. I will be keeping a close eye on this and may be planning a trip to Bermuda to cover the impacts if in fact Nicole gets close enough to the island.
Beyond Nicole there are no other areas to worry about for the time being but a robust MJO pulse is forecast by the major global models to set up in the Atlantic Basin over the next two weeks or so. This would favor widespread upward motion and period of favorable upper level winds – mainly across the western Caribbean where climatology tells us to look this time of year. As a result, the GFS and ECMWF models both suggest development between seven and ten days out. Something to watch for but nothing appears imminent.
I am back in the office now in Wilmington, NC after quite a saga tracking down Matthew from the east-central coast of Florida and then up through the Carolinas. I covered a lot of ground and captured some useful wind and pressure data along with compelling live video from our unmanned cams. I will post some of the data soon along with video highlights of the field mission.
I’ll have a video discussion posted early this afternoon followed by a blog update this evening concerning Nicole and what the latest trends are regarding impacts for Bermuda.
Once again, the United States escapes hurricane season without a significant hurricane, or any hurricane, making landfall. This should come as no surprise since the season was forecast to be rather tranquil and, for the most part, it has been. Of course, two exceptions stick out: Dominica and parts of the Bahamas. Those two areas had anything but a “quiet” hurricane season. Otherwise, as far as the U.S. is concerned, the season came and went without too much to worry about.
We used this past season to continue to test new technology, especially our live remote camera system. Despite the quiet season for the U.S., I have been very busy. Doing what? Getting ready for when there are hurricanes once again knocking on the door.
Mike Watkins assisting Mark Sudduth to deploy the “old” camera system as hurricane Isaac approached Louisiana in 2012. This is along the 17th Street Canal in New Orleans.
It was ten years ago that we developed our unmanned cameras for deployment in even the most intense hurricane conditions. Back then and up until this year, the technology was bulky, heavy and had several points of potential failure. It worked more times than not and we captured some extraordinary video using the old tech, all while keeping us away from the worst of the conditions and perhaps just as important, allowing us to be in several places at once.
Fast-forward ten years…
The available technology has come so far that our new cameras are tiny, the entire set up weighs less than 6 pounds and I can even airline three of them to anywhere I need to at very little cost. The video quality is superb and we now have audio, something that we had wanted since day-1 but always struggled with how to do it. Problem solved.
Our new generation of unmanned cameras weighs only 6 pounds, will run for 36 hours, has superb video and audio quality and costs 1/3 less than what we had been using. Here is one being set up on Long Island during a powerful winter storm last January
We also solved the problem of how long the cameras would run. The first generation relied on a huge AGM battery that had to power a laptop, a VCR and the camera. We would get 18 hours if we were lucky and ALWAYS had to go retrieve the cases in order to save anything for archival purposes. Today, everything is saved automatically in 3-hour increments on “the cloud” so even if the cameras are lost, stolen or otherwise destroyed, we have everything saved no matter what.
Utilizing the very latest in USB power technology, the cameras operate for 36 hours now. This will come in extremely handy during a major hurricane and storm surge event that requires us to set up well ahead of the wind and rain. Not only does the new technology keep us even safer, but the run time will allow us to capture, and stream live, the entire event, not just a section of it.
I first tested the new cams this past winter in New York and Massachusetts during a pair of blizzards that struck the region in late January and mid-February. I took three with me each time and set them out across a fairly wide swath. The best results came during the Valentines Day blizzard in February along Cape Cod. See for yourself in the time lapse video that I produced from the live stream archive:
After two successful field tests last winter, it was obvious that the new technology was going to work and would be the basis for our future field missions. In fact, the ridiculous amounts of snow in the Boston area, accompanied many times by photos on social media of people using yard sticks to measure the depth, gave me another idea.
It is one thing to have live video of storm surge sweeping in across the coast. How about showing how high the water is rising? Many cities have flood gauges at low water crossings to indicate how high the water has risen during flash flood events. Why not do this for storm surge? Since we will have live cameras out there, might as well have a method of showing how high the water is in fact rising.
Photo of the “measuring tape” that we developed to show how high the water is rising on our live camera feeds
I turned to my friends at the local Fast Signs store and once again, problem solved. Using high-quality outdoor banner material, I created what is best described as an over sized tape measure. It is 8 inches wide by 10 to 25 feet high. The idea is to set one up in the view of the camera and as the water rises, we can all see just how high it is above the local ground level.
I took the new cameras along with the giant tape measure to the National Hurricane Center in July for a presentation. Considering all of the innovative storm surge products that are coming out, I thought that this new generation of camera, coupled with the ability to show the storm surge height in real-time, would be extremely beneficial to the forecasters and scientists. They were already familiar with results from previous storm surge events from our old camera system; the response to what I have now was overwhelming. So much potential exists for utilizing this new way of showing a hurricane’s most lethal weapon as it’s happening.
Obviously, the 2015 season did not look to be very threatening to U.S. interests. Erika and Joaquin were, at one point, possible landfall issues but we know how that turned out.
However, Joaquin’s indirect influence on the Southeast with its moisture plume feeding in to an upper level low brought historic flooding and excessive rain to parts of South Carolina. It wasn’t storm surge but it was an opportunity to test the new cameras in the field once again and in much warmer (and wetter) conditions.
My colleague from Houston joined me in Wilmington where we prepared three units for deployment along the coast in North and South Carolina. We put two along the Outer Banks where unusually high tides were wreaking havoc on the dune line. The third camera was placed in Charleston where it streamed live for 36 hours as the rain fell, leading to extensive flooding. Check out the time lapse from that camera below. Notice all of the people using various means of “transportation” to maneuver through the flooded streets. It wasn’t enough of a flood to warrant us putting out our new water height marker but the test once again proved beyond any doubt that this new technology going to work.
The use of time lapse is very important in understanding how fast conditions change. Because the live video stream is archived off-site in three hour chunks, I can go back and pull down any or all of the video and then process it for various time lapse purposes.
However, it is the live, as it’s happening, video that is most compelling. Being able to deploy one of these cameras in just a matter of minutes to practically anything that we need to has huge implications. We can totally immerse our viewers in to the weather event like never before. With the addition of audio, it makes it even more like you’re right there, in the heart of the action.
Even though Joaquin went out to sea, scraping Bermuda on its way, it provided us with the chance to continue testing in real weather conditions. I cannot emphasize how important this is. I can set up a camera system in my back yard until the cows come home but doing it in the field is better. We need to know how well everything works (or doesn’t) with rain, snow, wind, people around, etc. So far, we were perfect for the year – having tested the cams during two massive winter storms in the Northeast and a high-impact flood and tide event in the Southeast. I have to say that at this point, the success exceeded my expectations. This was new ground for us, being able to deploy cams spread out over hundreds of miles and having confidence that they would perform as designed. Still, no hurricanes yet. The 2015 season appeared to be winding down for U.S. concerns.
As October entered its third week, hurricane Patricia dominated the headlines. At one point, winds topped 200 mph in a small area surrounding the tiny eye of the east Pacific beast. It was forecast to strike Mexico west of Manzanillo and then quickly weaken over rugged terrain.
However, as was mentioned by the NHC in their discussions regarding Patricia, it seemed that the remnant energy would survive the passage over Mexico and re-energize to some extent over the northwestern Gulf of Mexico.
The flood threat for parts of Texas began to increase. Many areas from Austin and the surrounding Hill Country down to Houston had seen more than enough rain this past spring. Although it had been fairly dry all summer, the prospects for excessive rain due to the remnants of Patricia raised concerns for the region.
Oh the irony! The large yellow case used to house a big battery, laptop and other bulky equipment needed to stream live video. Here, I have packed three of the new cams in to that same case for transport via airline to Houston
At literally the last minute possible, I decided this was a chance to test the new cameras under stressful conditions, similar to a hurricane event. Time was running out, tremendous amounts of rain were forecast to move in to Texas from the southwest and I had to get to Houston quickly. There was no time to drive the cameras there in the Tahoe. Instead, I packed three cams in to one of the large cases that we used to use for just one camera unit back in the day. Talk about irony! All three fit perfectly inside what was once the case for just one bulky camera system. The cost for me to “airline” the cams was only $65! I could not believe it. In less than four hours on Saturday, October 24, I was in Houston and ready to roll.
I met up with Kerry, my colleague in Houston, and we worked quickly to deploy one of the cameras along Brays Bayou – part of the Harris County Flood Control District. This time, we would use one of the high water markers. After about 15 minutes of effort, we had the camera secured to a massive concrete column and the marker set up on the adjacent column. Kerry warned me that the water would rise tens of feet and easily submerge the camera. I had trouble believing this since I was not familiar with the flood control system in Houston and could not imagine that much water rising so fast. He knew it and said it was almost a certainty. He pointed out that on Memorial Day when excessive rains fell across the region, the water level was some 35 feet higher than where we were standing, almost topping the banks of the bayou.
One of three cams set up for the October 24 flood event in Houston, here along Brays Bayou near 288
The camera was secured using strong zip ties and a steel chain to keep it on the column should the zip ties fail. Everything was running and we were streaming live from an unmanned camera deep inside Brays Bayou. What happened next was an instant classic.
We spent the next several hours deploying the two remaining cameras out on Bolivar peninsula to capture the potential tidal flooding that was predicted due to the onshore flow. Patricia was no more but the remnants spawned a new low pressure area over the very warm Gulf with tropical storm conditions being felt across the region.
As the day wore on, the rain fell hard across Houston and vicinity. Slowly but surely the bayous began to rise. We watched our live cam in Brays as the water steadily came up and swallowed the sidewalk, normally used by bikers and joggers on sunny days.
By 4:30 pm the water had risen over 6 feet and was about to reach the camera itself. The high water marker we had set up came loose in the wind and folded over on itself. However, the mid-point, 5 feet above the concrete below, was still clearly visible since that is where we ran a zip tie. At least we knew where the 5 foot line was. The water kept on coming. Within 15 minutes, the camera was submerged and eventually the data signal could not reach the cell site and we lost the feed. We were not surprised about this but I was shocked at how fast the water came up.
As night fell, more and more rain did as well. Houston was flooding once again as were parts of the Hill Country. Patricia left its mark on Mexico and, indirectly, on parts of Texas, Louisiana and beyond.
The next day, by late in the afternoon, we went back to Brays Bayou to retrieve the camera. To my astonishment, the water had risen all the up the side of the banks, some 25 feet higher than normal. As for our camera? It was doing just fine, resting on the flowing water, held on by the thick chain that secured it to the column. We donned some hip-waders and made our way down to the flooded bayou to grab the cam. Success once again! Despite being under water until the pressure was enough to pop the cam out from the zip ties, the case, a Pelican Storm Case, was almost completely dry inside. Only about a teaspoon of seepage was noticed. Not bad considering where it was for 30+ hours. No equipment was harmed and the cam was ready for the next event.
Check out the time lapse and then the last few minutes of real-time video from that camera:
The other two cameras out along Bolivar also worked perfect. We had now streamed more live video from more cameras than ever before – all during a season with no hurricane landfalls. Needless to say, we were quite impressed at how well things were working and it was about to get even more interesting.
During that event, Kerry had shared the links to the camera feeds with the local emergency management officials in Houston and Harris county. Kerry works with Amateur Radio for severe weather and other emergency situations and has numerous contacts within what is called TranStar. He also shared the archival video with Jeff Lindner of Harris County Flood Control District. All of a sudden, there was great interest in our project. We received tremendous praise for the efforts and set up a meeting in early November to discuss working together during future flood events. The idea was simple: we need to test the equipment regularly and HCFCD needs real-time video from as many bayou sites as possible. TranStar can only do so much and is really more for traffic issues, not weather events. We agreed to collaborate on working future flood threats and even worked to select three sites for when the next event takes place. It only took two weeks.
Kerry kept three cams with him in Houston and during a low-end flood threat on November 14, he set out all three along Houston area bayous: Brays, South Mayde Creek and Brickhouse Gully. This time, Jeff and his team were watching in real time as the rain fell. He too shared the live feed links with local officials and the media. KPRC, the NBC station in Houston, tapped in to the feeds for on-air use. The flooding was minor but the test was, once again, perfect. In fact, the cameras outlasted the event! Kerry went out the night after the rain and collected all three cases and had to turn them off as they were still running long after the front passed through.
The results were impressive. Jeff and his team had live video from actual USGS flood gauge sites (South Mayde Creek and Brickhouse) and an incredible view of Brays Bayou literally looking down from Hwy 288.
The time lapse was just as impressive. The best example was from South Mayde Creek. Watch as the rain comes in about 1/3 of the way through the video. Then, the creek rises in dramatic fashion, filling the inside floodplain in just a matter of hours, if that.
Indeed, we knew we were on to something very special with this new generation of unmanned camera system. By now, we had seven cameras ready for deployment. After the mid-November event, we ordered parts for five more – bringing our total to 12. This is some serious fire power for the next hurricane or major winter storm or Houston area flood. What would we do with it? How can it best serve the public? Here is the plan:
All of the testing was done using our public Ustream account. This means that anyone with an Internet connected device, from PC to Mac to Smartphones and almost all tablets, could access the feeds at zero cost to them. The streams are monetized with commercials that play throughout the duration, usually every 15 minutes. This is how Ustream pays for the bandwidth and we collect a tiny portion of the revenue as well.
The idea is to continue to make the feeds available to the public at no cost. We do have a subscription site that, ten years ago, was set up to provide exclusive access to our live video. However, times are changing and we now have far more cameras than ever before. We feel it is best to provide the feeds to anyone who wishes to watch at no cost what so ever. We will still offer our subscription service but it will focus much more on forecast analysis and private live video discussions with our clients. There are other unique features as well but the days of keeping our live video during field missions behind a paywall are over.
As such, anyone, including the media, may use our live feeds as much as they want. The feeds can be shared, embedded on your site, put on social media, what ever you want, it’s all good. This will get the public more involved than ever before. From the moment we leave the driveway for a field mission to the moment it’s all over, our audience can be immersed in the event like no other time before. You will go along with us as we set up each camera. If it is a substantial hurricane storm surge threat, you will be able to watch as the water rises on our markers. Imagine being able to see, in real time, just how high the water is. You won’t have to imagine – it will happen right on your screen.
In addition, you will, for the first time, hear a hurricane like never before. We can place these cams practically anywhere, giving you a front row seat to one of the most dangerous weather events on the planet. You will feel as if you’re there yet you’ll be safe in your home. Better yet, if you evacuated the region where we deployed these cams, you can see precisely why you made the right choice. All you have to do is tune in. We will provide a totally immersive experience that will show you the power of a hurricane (and other severe weather events) like you’ve never seen or heard before. And it won’t cost anything.
The benefit to emergency management and law enforcement officials is huge. Social media can be a great tool to make sure local officials have access to the live cams with ease. Jeff Lindner knows the potential of this as do other public officials that we have worked with or come to know over the last decade. Now it will be easier than ever before to gain access and know precisely what is going on via our live feeds. It’s a win-win for all, no doubt about it.
As for the science? So much information is captured via video, especially from a fixed camera location. Time lapse will continue to be an extremely valuable tool as we deploy in future events. For the scientists and forecasters at the National Hurricane Center and local WFOs, real time video as well as archival clips will go a long way in public awareness campaigns. All using technology and not putting anyone in harm’s way to capture the video.
It’s taken a decade to get here but here we are – on the brink of something so innovative and useful for those who like to watch the weather when it turns against us. We have our own network of unmanned cameras, coupled with weather data gathering capabilities that will enable us to bring you what will ultimately be the best hurricane coverage you have ever seen. All because we don’t sit around twiddling our thumbs when there are no hurricanes impacting the USA. You, our audience, will be the beneficiaries of those efforts. I guarantee that you have never seen anything like what we will unleash the next time a hurricane, especially a major hurricane, crosses the coast of the United States. It’s only a matter of time.
In the off-season, we will have winter storm coverage and blog posts. As for next hurricane season and what I think might happen? Well, if history is a guide, then the fall of the current El Nino in to possible La Nina conditions by next summer could mean we have a very busy season. Either way, like we do when there are NO hurricanes, it is always best to prepare for when there ARE hurricanes.
Tropical depression Bill as seen via visible satellite photo on June 20, 2015
Tropical storm Bill made landfall early Tuesday morning along the central Texas coast and has since left a tremendous amount of rain in its wake. Fortunately, the flooding situation in Texas was not as severe as it could have been but in parts of Oklahoma, it’s a different story.
Bill once again underscores the importance of the public having a grasp on the total package, so to speak, that tropical cyclones bring. It’s not just categories of hurricanes or the amount of storm surge, rain and the resulting freshwater flooding has a way of sneaking in and seemingly catching people off guard.
Today, the remnant low pressure area of Bill is currently moving through parts of Arkansas and Missouri. Heavy rain is falling in areas such as St. Louis and will spread up the I-70 corridor in to Indiana over the weekend. The satellite presentation is still rather impressive for a depression that has been over land for several days. The low is forecast to track through Kentucky and eventually off the Mid-Atlantic states within the next few days, spreading more heavy rain along its path.
As for the tropics going in to the weekend – nothing to worry about at all. We are currently within a period of time that is not likely to allow for much development in either the east Pacific or the Atlantic. This should last for about 10 to 15 days, maybe more, we’ll see. In addition, dry, dusty air from Africa is traversing the Atlantic right now, keeping a literal lid on any development chances out that way. So enjoy the weekend along the shores, tropical storms and hurricanes won’t be an issue anywhere. I’ll have more here on Monday.
NHC graphical outlook and the potential track area of invest 91L
A lot has been made already about the presence of invest area 91L. After all, it is hurricane season and we do have an area of interest to monitor in a region that hasn’t had much activity over the past few years. In fact, a grand total of zero hurricanes have made landfall in Texas since 2008 – Ike was the last. While there is nothing at all to suggest that 91L will become a hurricane, it does raise a few eyebrows and for good reason: the rain threat.
May was an absolutely stunning month for rain in parts of Texas. Houston alone set records and had flooding issues. Farther inland, areas such as Austin, San Antonio and Wimberley experienced flooding which resulted in loss of life and significant damage. The power of water is often unappreciated until it changes lives and alters the landscape.
Enter 91L in to the picture and the NHC’s potential track area as seen in the graphic and you can see why Texans are probably a little more concerned about this system than they might be otherwise. None of the intensity guidance suggests anything more than a lopsided, weak tropical storm. Nothing to worry about, right? Wrong. Tropical cyclones, this includes tropical depressions and tropical storms mind you, have four main hazards that they can hit you with: wind, storm surge, rain and tornadoes (downburst winds too). The majority of the public responds well when the forecast suggests 150 mph winds are coming. Sadly, storm surge, as lethal as it is, seems to be ignored (see Katrina, Ike and Sandy).
That leaves us with rain, the most abundant of the tropical cyclone hazards and yet it is the most ignored and least understood by the average person. We think of rain as cleansing and necessary to sustain life. However, too much of it at once or even over several days has a drastic effect on life as we know it.
Only a few inches of rain in a short period of time can overwhelm flood control systems in large metro areas such as Houston. If the rain keeps coming, everything literally cascades in to a total disaster, often stranding hundreds of people who didn’t seem to know better. Even after years of “turn around, don’t drown” people will think they are immune to the laws of physics and do something that defies logic. All because they didn’t respect the power of rain and freshwater flooding.
What does all of this have to do with 91L? Plenty. I think this is an opportunity for people in the region, mainly Texas, to show that they have learned from past experiences. Allison in 2001 was quite a while ago, I’ll give them that. But the May floods were, well, in May – just a few short weeks ago.
There is the potential for what ever becomes of 91L, whether or not it attains tropical storm intensity, to drop a lot of rain over areas that simply don’t need it – at least not in the quantities that some forecasts are showing.
The good news is that upper level winds should keep 91L from becoming much more than a rain threat. This will minimize the amount of wind and surge impact to the coast. However, any onshore flow in areas such as Bolivar Peninsula could lead to over wash – that area is flat with little to no dune protection.
The bad news is that the Gulf of Mexico is ripe with moisture. Water temps are running above normal with actual temps close to the upper 80s along parts of the northwest Gulf. This will lead to an incredible amount of precipitable water being lifted in to the atmosphere and wrung out over Texas next week. Flooding is almost a certainty but exactly where is impossible to pinpoint.
It is going to be important for people in the region to monitor their local news outlets and reliable social media sources for updates. This is going to be a constantly changing situation and a lot will come down to how much rain falls over a certain area and for how long. Since that cannot be forecast with any real accuracy this far out, keeping up with the latest from the National Weather Service and your local TV meteorologists will be important in keeping you and your family safe.
I highly recommend using weather.gov and then inputting your ZIP Code. The return page will have a ton of useful links and information, including the latest watch/warning package and any special statements. It’s all right there at your fingertips – use it!
TS Carlos tracking map from the National Hurricane Center
Meanwhile, Carlos is a tropical storm now just off the coast of Mexico in the eastern Pacific. The forecast takes the storm inland between Tuesday and Wednesday while strengthening it again to hurricane strength. Again, as with 91L in the Gulf of Mexico, the biggest issue with Carlos will be the potential for flooding rain. Certainly hurricane force winds are an issue but with a slow moving tropical system the rain is probably the larger concern at this point. Fortunately, the proximity of Carlos to land should keep it from intensifying much more than it is now, fluctuating back and forth between tropical storm and hurricane strength. Once inland in a few days, its moisture will spread over the interior portions of Mexico further extending the rain and flooding threat to that region.
I will have continuing coverage of 91L and Carlos tomorrow and via my video blog discussions now available through our YouTube channel. Follow and subscribe to the channel here: HurricaneTrack YouTube channel
Recent radar image showing rain bands coming onshore as the remnants of Karen pass by
Karen never made it to land. The October storm that had potential to become a hurricane succumbed to relentless strong upper level winds and dry air. This constant battering finally overwhelmed the storm and it is now just a remnant low pressure area over the Gulf.
The moisture that remains will stream northward today and impact portions of the northern Gulf Coast where flood watches are posted for some areas. Rain could be heavy at times and there is the possibility for isolated tornadoes so keep your NOAA Weather Radio handy just in case.
Once the cold front sweeps through, the weather will return to more fall-like and bring a nice pattern back to the region.
Looking ahead – there is a chance we’ll see another tropical storm form out in the open Atlantic this coming week. I’ll have more on that plus the chance of a hybrid storm developing off the Carolinas later in the week as well. October can be a very active month as the clash of the seasons mixes tropical activity with winter-like storms – just as we saw lately with Karen and the incredible blizzard for parts of the upper Midwest.