Tropics quiet for now, SSTs going up in some places while we prepare to test HURRB

Posted a video blog today highlighting the quiet time we have ahead. Also noted the rising sea surface temperatures in the northeast Atlantic, a stark contrast to where the region was this time last year. While things are quiet, the team heads to Kansas to test out our hurricane weather balloon project. All of this covered in today’s video discussion:

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Field missions 2016: taking you beyond the edge of the envelope via technology

It is now hurricane season for the Atlantic Basin. So far, not much going on which is typical of early June. But what about when things do get busy and we have a landfalling hurricane? Assuming that this in fact happens, let me spell out for you how incredible our field coverage will be in 2016.

The plan

Our plan is to provide complete hurricane coverage from the moment we see a landfall threat until it’s all over and the recovery process begins. We have a dedicated and extremely talented team ready for field work and behind the scenes efforts. When it’s time to go, we will immerse you in the process like you’ve never seen it before. If you have any interest in hurricanes, whether it be from being fascinated by their raw power or maybe you and your family are in harm’s way, we will have it covered.

Everything we do will be streamed live on our public Ustream set of channels. It all begins the moment we leave the driveway and it won’t stop until we get back. We’ve been doing it this way since 2005, before most had any clue of how to stream live from a moving vehicle. It was pretty good then, it’s absolutely incredible now – the technology has come so far, it’s like you’re there with us every step of the way.

This gives us the advantage of keeping you in the loop every second of the mission. When there is new information coming in, we’re on it the moment it breaks. When we know, you’ll know because you’ll be joining us live as if you are there in the Tahoe with us. For those who have seen our coverage, you already know – and it just keeps getting better.

Unmanned cams

One of our 12 unmanned camera systesms - here seen while testing during the blizzard back in January, along the NJ coast

One of our 12 unmanned camera systems – here seen while testing during the blizzard back in January, along the NJ coast

Once we get to the area where we expect landfall, we will begin working to place our unique, state-of-the-art unmanned camera systems in places that no human being should present once the hurricane comes in. We have 12 of these cameras and can literally blanket a region with a virtual fence of live feeds that will leave you breathless when the worst of the weather arrives. Keep in mind that we now have audio with the camera systems, and let me tell you it is stunning how much this improves the experience. We’ve tested the new cams in winter storms and flood events as of late and the audio brings it to a whole new level of virtual immersion in to the worst weather imaginable.

Our goal will be to show the storm surge primarily since that causes the most damage and has the most potential for resulting in loss of life.  Our hope is that by placing an unmanned camera that anyone nearby who refuses to evacuate will think twice considering we believe it to be important enough to stick a camera in their neighborhood. What’s more, we have our own water height markers, surge markers if you will, that we will set up in front of the shot to show you how high the water is at any given moment. This is unprecedented in terms of the value to the public, emergency management, the NWS/NHC and the media. Live cams showing water and storm surge are great – but showing precisely how high the water is at a given location is the next level and can benefit so many people, even in the face of a terrible disaster. Our test in Deweyville, Texas for the record flood back in March proved the worth of this concept.

Screen grab from our Deweyville, TX streaming event that covered the record setting flood from the Sabine river back in March, 2016. Notice the flood marker that we set up on the stop sign to show the rise of water. We will use these same markers during hurricane storm surge events

Screen grab from our Deweyville, TX streaming event that covered the record setting flood from the Sabine river back in March, 2016. Notice the flood marker that we set up on the stop sign to show the rise of water. We will use these same markers during hurricane storm surge events (click on pic to enlarge)

The unmanned cameras typically run for 32 hours which is plenty of time for covering the entire landfall event. This also allows us to set them up in places that would perhaps otherwise be left without any coverage. Small towns or barrier islands that would be it hard by storm surge are now going to have a live camera that, once set up, will provide the people who evacuated with a look at what’s happening. All of this while keeping us out of harm’s way since we won’t be there where the storm surge is. Technology will provide the solution to the problem of how to get incredible live video from the most dangerous part of a hurricane. We will accomplish this goal using our new generation of unmanned cameras.

All of the live feeds will be made available to the public to view at absolutely no cost. We will post links right here on the HurricaneTrack.com homepage and make it very easy to follow along. We encourage viewers to share the links, embed them on their own pages, social media and elsewhere. Since we are using the ad-supported Ustream platform, we have no cost to provide the live feeds. Anyone with a modern device and and Internet connection will able to follow along for as long as they wish. It will be a remarkable experience, I guarantee it.

Weather data

Live weather data will be an important part of our field coverage in 2016

Live weather data will be an important part of our field coverage in 2016

The next step in our field work will be to set up our weather stations to collect the all-important data from the wind and the air pressure. Again, using top of the line equipment, our wind and pressure sensors will provide reliable, accurate data every 60 seconds from the moment we turn it on. This data, along with a web cam image from the site, will feed to our app, Hurricane Impact. It also goes exclusively to our subscribers via an interface we have developed for online viewing of the data. We have two complete weather stations in the U.S. now plus one in Bermuda (I left it there after Gonzalo in 2014). The two stations for U.S. landfalls will run for about 24 hours, providing exceptional weather data no matter how strong the hurricane is. Our goal will be to sample the highest winds with one station, likely placing it within the right-front quadrant relative to forward movement while placing the other station where we believe the eye will pass over, giving us (hopefully) the lowest pressure reading possible. You will be able to watch all of this as it happens – just get our app, it’s a great way to support our work and it gives you something that no one else offers. Sure there is plenty of online weather data, but how many of those stations were set up SPECIFICALLY for that hurricane? Ours are exactly that. Hurricane Impact- two words – search for it on the App Store and in Google Play.

HURRB Weather Balloon

HURRB payload ready for testing in 2015

HURRB payload ready for testing in 2015

All the while our equipment is streaming live video from what could be hell on earth conditions, and our weather stations are sampling the extreme environment, we will be preparing to do something that no one has ever even attempted, much less accomplished.

We call it HURRB for Hurricane Balloon. It’s a cute name for something very important and innovative. We have designed a payload that will be lifted via a 1500 gram weather balloon through the eye of the hurricane just after it makes landfall, to the stratosphere, and back down again via parachute. The payload contains weather sensors to collect temperature, humidity and pressure readings every 6 seconds. Using APRS and Amateur Radio, this data will be sent back live every minute or so. It’s also stored of course on a micro SD card inside the payload. In addition, a high-end GPS device will record the position and speed of the payload, also every 6 seconds, throughout the flight. This will help us to understand the wind pattern in the eye and as high as 100,000 feet above the planet.

Of course, all of this will be recorded via a pair of GoPro cameras placed on the outside of the payload. Never before have we seen the inside of a hurricane’s eye like this – not going vertical. Now imagine the moment when the payload exits the top of the hurricane and soars another 60,000 feet above – looking down on the white, massive spiral bands of the slowly dying hurricane as it moves inland. We don’t know what it will look like but we’re going to find out – if we get a hurricane, or even a tropical storm of decent strength and organization, we’ll launch in 2016.

The weather balloon will reach burst altitude – hopefully around 100,000+ feet – where it will pop and send the payload back to earth via a 4 foot parachute. APRS and satellite tracking will tell us exactly where it is and where it landed. All we have to do is recover it and see what we captured. It could be some of the most incredible video ever seen of a hurricane – we won’t know unless we try.

Colleague Kerry Mallory holding on to the inflated weather balloon and payload right before our test launch last June in Colorado City, Texas

Colleague Kerry Mallory holding on to the inflated weather balloon and payload right before our test launch last June in Colorado City, Texas

We’ve tested HURRB three times since designing it in 2012. The next test is coming up on June 12 in Kansas. After that, we wait for the chance of a lifetime.

Once it’s all said and done, we will have accomplished quite a bit. Basically it’s just a few guys working together to provide what amounts to the most comprehensive hurricane field coverage possible. No TV network will have 12 unmanned cameras placed in the teeth of the hurricane. Other “storm chasers” will certainly have impressive live feeds and hand-held video but they too will have to retreat at some point or risk being hurt or killed. Our cameras have no fear, no wife and kids to come home to, they just sit there and bear witness to the unleashed power that hurricanes bring. We will literally go beyond the edge of the envelope, the danger zone, so to speak, and immerse you in the wind, rain and storm surge like you’ve never witnessed it before. All of it executed via technology.

So there’s our plan. Now we wait and watch for that suspect area of weather that gradually becomes better organized, captivating our every thought as it strengthens and heads towards land. If and when the time comes, we will deliver the best hurricane coverage yet. Come along with us, we’ll take you there.

M. Sudduth 9:30 AM June 1

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Adventure of a lifetime awaits, but first, must test and be ready

HURRB Logo

HURRB Logo

In 2012 we came up with the idea of launching a weather balloon with a payload consisting of weather data collection equipment and GoPro cameras in to the eye of a hurricane. And thus, HURRB was born: the Hurricane Research Balloon.

We built a prototype using a cheap Styrofoam cooler and launched it from near Buffalo, Texas in late May of 2012. Everything about it was a success. It worked.

Last June, we tried it again, this time using a Pelican Storm Case as the payload. It seems to be made for this type of thing and our test launch from Ardmore, Oklahoma was again a roaring success. Our payload managed to make it to 97,600 feet before the balloon burst due to the extreme low pressures of the upper atmosphere. Check out this video summary of the launch from last year: https://youtu.be/ZRviUYMdW90

It is now time to test HURRB again. This time, from Colorado City, Texas. I like choosing new locations each year in the center part of the country to make things relatively easy. Why? Well, simply put, during a hurricane, it is going to very, very tough. The stress of getting in to the eye and then getting a 1500 gram weather balloon ready to hoist a 4.5 pound payload 100,000 feet up is enough to make most people say, “forget it”. Not us. We think it can be done, we just need the chance. Practice doesn’t ever make perfect when dealing with the weather but it sure helps. We have to keep on testing in order to be ready when the time comes for the adventure of a lifetime.

HURRB has a special APRS transmitter that will give us its location above the Earth and then once it is on the ground. It also has an on-board satellite based tracking system that is a great back-up to the APRS transmitter. This is how we will track HURRB.

Far more important is the weather data we will be collecting. The High Altitude Science Eagle Weather Computer will log temperature, pressure and humidity every six seconds. It will also give us a detailed GPS track as well. This computer worked flawlessly last year but right now, it is malfunctioning on us and will be of no use for this test. However, failure is always an option and you have to learn from setbacks. We know the computer works and will make sure we have a working one for the real deal when ever that day comes. So no weather data from this flight but the GPS info from the SPOT locator and the APRS will tell us a lot about the wind above the Texas country-side.

Then there are the twin GoPro cameras. These give us the awesome shot of our wonderful planet from many miles up. One camera faces upward towards the sky and the balloon while the other camera is angled down but out just enough to show a horizon from time to time. High altitude balloon enthusiasts know all too well how spectacular the view is from 100,000 feet. We can’t wait to see what we capture tomorrow.

This launch is special too because of a dying east Pacific hurricane. Blanca is slowly weakening as it interacts with the Baja peninsula well to the west and south of where we are. However, the high level cirrus outflow is making its way across the Southwest and in to the skies above Texas. We will fly HURRB through this and probably 60,000 feet above it! While not the goal of getting HURRB in to the eye of a hurricane, we’ll take the cirrus outflow as a great first step.

We plan to set up and launch from Colorado City’s northwest side around 6:30 AM local time or 7:30 AM ET. If you would like to watch us prep the balloon and launch it – click the link below for the special HURRB page we’ve set up. There is also a link to track HURRB via the APRS website.

Click here to watch our launch and recovery (signal allowing) of HURRB

Once HURRB reaches burst altitude and the balloon pops, the payload will fall back to the ground via parachute. We will then locate it via the GPS tracking we have and hopefully recover the payload before early afternoon, if not sooner. We will do our best to stream the chase and recovery but some of the scrub brush area of Texas that we will likely travel through has no cellular data signal and so we might lose our feed. Once we recover HURRB, I will Tweet about it and make sure I post some video just as soon as possible.

This is exciting, a weather geek’s dream shot. I am hopeful that we have another perfect launch and recovery tomorrow – I guess there is only one way to find out. We’ll see you (if you’re up) from Colorado City, Texas bright and early tomorrow!

M. Sudduth 1:00 AM ET June 8

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Hurricane Blanca likely a problem for Baja then Southwest U.S.

Hurricane Blanca in the east Pacific

Hurricane Blanca in the east Pacific

It’s like 2014 all over again in the east Pacific. Hurricane after hurricane developing over the abnormally warm water in the region. The latest, Blanca, poses a risk to the Baja peninsula and eventually parts of the Southwest United States.

The latest from the NHC indicates that winds are near 110 mph. The forecast suggests that Blanca will become significantly stronger as it moves roughly parallel to the Mexican coastline. Fortunately, the hurricane is far enough off shore to spare the mainland any direct impacts. However, in a few days, the southern tip of the Baja is probably going to have to deal with this system.

Most model guidance and the official track forecast from the NHC suggest that Blanca will turn slightly more to the east with time as the high pressure area over the east Pacific breaks down due to a trough of low pressure off the California coast. This will allow the hurricane to track right in to the Baja region this weekend.

The intensity forecast brings Blanca close to category five due to very warm ocean water and an ideal upper level pattern. In fact, the hurricane is going through a steady period of rapid intensification right now which should last for another day or so. This means at the very least, tremendous swells will begin to impact the coast ahead of the hurricane itself due to the intense winds over the open ocean.

How strong Blanca is once it encounters land along the southern Baja remains to be seen. Water temps cool off along the forecast track close to the peninsula. Also, the NHC mentions upper level winds becoming less favorable with time, inducing shear over the hurricane. All of these factors should result in a weaker system at landfall. No matter, interests in the region should prepare for a hurricane and its associated effects by this weekend.

Once Blanca makes landfall and interacts with the Baja it will decay very quickly. However, the moisture plume that will stream northward from the dying hurricane will inevitably dump heavy rain over parts of southwest Mexico and the southwest United States. Right now, this does not look to be as serious a situation as we saw unfold last year with Pacific hurricanes Norbert and Odile. Moisture will be on the increase across the Southwest by early next week but it is too soon to know just how much and precisely where at this point. The forecast will be refined in the coming days and much will depend on how strong Blanca remains after landfall.

In other news, I am heading out beginning today for a trip to Houston, Texas for the annual Ready or Not Houston/Galveston Hurricane Workshop this Saturday. It is probably the largest event of its kind in the country and is well worth the time of anyone who stops in for a visit. Numerous agencies, news media, hurricane experts and relief organizations participate in order to bring the public exceptional hurricane information and preparedness info.

I will have the HurricaneTrack Chevy Tahoe on display along with several pieces of brand new equipment that we have developed for observing hurricanes up close and personal using technology. I will also have our HURRB (Hurricane Research Balloon) payload to show off as well. In fact, after the workshop wraps up Saturday, the team and I head up to Amarillo to prepare for a test launch of HURRB on Monday morning.

Our goal is to have a successful launch and recovery of the payload via high-altitude weather balloon. The on-board weather computer will store air pressure, temperature and humidity data every two seconds for the entire mission. If all goes as planned, the payload will ascend to at least 100,000 feet above Earth before the balloon bursts due to extreme low pressure. HURRB will then fall back to the ground via parachute to be retrieved by our team using satellite and ground based tracking. We’ll get to see it all from the point of view of two GoPro cameras mounted on the outside of the payload.

I will stream the entire trip out to Texas and back live on our public Ustream channel. On Monday, bright and early at that, I will also have the HURRB test streaming live as well. It’s all part of our own preparedness activities for the season ahead, no matter what it brings. Despite the forecast for fewer than average hurricanes, we need to be ready just as you do for that one landfall possibility that could change everything. If you live close enough to Houston to make it worth your while, I invite you to come out to the George R. Brown center on Saturday. Stop by the Tahoe and say hello. It’s an important event and we are proud to support it by our participation. No one knows for sure what kind of season we will end up having, being ready makes sense, no matter the numbers being forecast.

I’ll have more from the road including blog posts concerning Blanca and its projected impact on the Baja and the Southwest U.S.

M. Sudduth 9:35 AM ET June 3

 

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First, Houston Hurricane Workshop, then, test HURRB

Houston/Galveston Hurricane Workshop

Houston/Galveston Hurricane Workshop

I am very excited about the next several days. There is a lot going on as we close in on the start of hurricane season. It all begins, for me anyway, in Houston this Saturday.

I will be flying out on Friday for the Houston Hurricane Workshop this Saturday. It is an enormous hurricane preparedness and information event held at the convention center in downtown Houston. I will have a booth there with my good friend and colleague Kerry Mallory – who is also the Amateur Radio operator for our HURRB project, more on that in a moment.

The workshop features speakers on hurricane preparedness, forecasting and recovery. There are numerous business, non-profits and emergency response/management groups on site as well. The workshop is billed as the largest of its kind in the nation – fitting for Texas, right? It is open to the public, costs no money to get in and runs from 10am until 3pm at the George R. Brown convention center. Come on by and say hello – while you’re there, you can meet HURRB before we send him to the edge of space. Which brings me to my next topic…

We began the HURRB or Hurricane Research Balloon project in 2012 with the idea that we could launch a payload via weather balloon in to the eye of a hurricane at its landfall along the U.S. coastline. At the time, we were hoping to gather GPS data along with HD video from our GoPro cams mounted on the payload. We tested the project near Buffalo, Texas in late May of 2012 with about as perfect a set of results as one could expect. Now it is time to take it to the next level.

The first generation of HURRB was made out of styrofoam – a simple $2.57 cooler from Walmart. It served its purpose but lacked the strength that we felt we needed in the payload. After all, this is meant to endure the powerful winds of a hurricane.

HURRB payload

HURRB payload

Meet the second generation of HURRB. It’s made out of a small Storm Case, just like the ones we use for our Storm Surge cams. It is tough and will handle the forces that it may encounter during its ride in to and back from the eye of a hurricane.

This time, we are going smaller. The GoPro cams area smaller, and thus weigh less. The payload is smaller and looks more like a payload than a flying cooler. Inside of it is where the magic awaits. We have acquired a high-altitude weather computer specifically designed for use in weather balloon studies. It will measure and record temperature, humidity and air pressure every six seconds. It will also log GPS data throughout the entire flight. I love data and cannot wait to see what we get when we test it on Monday.

Ardmore, OK area where we plan to launch HURRB on Monday. The green area is the possible touchdown area for HURRB after the balloon bursts at 100,000 feet

Ardmore, OK area where we plan to launch HURRB on Monday. The green area is the possible touchdown area for HURRB after the balloon bursts at 100,000 feet

Our plan is to travel north from Houston on Saturday after the workshop. We will then pick up our tech guru, Paul, from DFW. After some planning and careful analysis of the upper air charts, we will head to Ardmore, Oklahoma on Monday morning to launch HURRB. Right now, we hope to let it go between 8am and 9am local time (9 to 10 ET). The flight should last about 90 minutes. We will have satellite and APRS tracking so we will know where HURRB is at all times. If all goes well, we will recover the payload somewhere over the open country of southeast Oklahoma with some incredible data to look over. Add to that the stunning HD video, from one cam looking up and the other cam looking down, and it makes for an exciting day of science.

We hope to learn more about how the equipment functions as well as get our timing down to as little as possible. Remember, we want to launch HURRB in the eye of a hurricane at landfall. We must move fast to get everything ready and HURRB in the air before the center of the eye moves away from us. Our goal is to have everything prepped and HURRB in the air in less than 10 minutes. It can be done and that’s what Monday’s practice will help us do.

HURRB can be launched at night too if we must. We cannot control when a hurricane makes landfall and if we get one at night, then up HURRB goes. While we won’t see much, if anything, from the GoPro cams, we will capture excellent high-frequency weather data from the surface of the earth to 100,000 feet or higher. In fact, we can even launch in a tropical storm if conditions allow. There is much to learn about tropical cyclones as they make landfall and because recon is generally not flown during landfall, launching weather balloons seems like a logical solution to the problem.

Follow HURRB on Twitter @hurrb as he will be Tweeting along his journey on Monday. Might even have a selfie or two – you just never know what HURRB will do once he’s awakened and powered on.

I will post more from the workshop this Saturday. If you’re in the area, please stop by. We’ll have one of our anemometers set up high on a pole so you’ll know it’s us. Come by and meet HURRB and register for our awesome prize package which includes a free 1 year membership to our Client Services site. Then, it’s on to the 2014 hurricane season. We’ll be ready, hope you are too.

M. Sudduth 10:23 am May 28

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