East Pacific stays busy, Atlantic quiet for now

East Pacific satellite photo showing dying tropical storm Agatha (small convective blob) along with strengthening tropical storm Blas which is forecast to become a powerful hurricane over the open Pacific

East Pacific satellite photo showing dying tropical storm Agatha (small convective blob) along with strengthening tropical storm Blas which is forecast to become a powerful hurricane over the open Pacific

It looks like we will see a parade of storms and hurricanes in the eastern Pacific over the coming days. Right now, we have TS Agatha which is weakening over cooler water and TS Blas which is about to become a hurricane. Both systems continue to remain well off the Mexican coastline and will have virtually no impact on land.

The recent burst of activity in the east Pacific can be partially attributed to a more favorable pattern overall that has allowed convection to develop and thrive. This phenomenon is called a convectively coupled Kelvin wave or CCKW. What is that you ask? It is difficult to explain but essentially it is an eastward moving wave of energy, bound by the equator to its south, that seems to enhance convection and vorticity (spin) in the atmosphere. Another way to look at it – the spark that lights the fire. Often times the passage of a CCKW will trigger the development of tropical waves as they progress across the ocean. In this case, the east Pacific took advantage of the passage and now we have two tropical cyclones and a third likely later this week. The good news is that none of the systems seem bound to affect land areas.

Will the CCKW make its way in to the western Caribbean and/or Atlantic and thus set up potential development there? So far, I am not seeing much evidence to support that. The global models all indicate generally quiet conditions over the Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf for the next several days. This is not surprising considering that when the east Pacific is active, the Atlantic is usually not. It’s also early July and from a climatology perspective, we are not supposed to see much activity right now anyway.

Radar image showing the eye of hurricane Arthur and my location over the Oregon Inlet early in the morning of July 4, 2014

Radar image showing the eye of hurricane Arthur and my location over the Oregon Inlet early in the morning of July 4, 2014

In other news, it’s now been two years since a hurricane of any strength made landfall along the U.S. coastline. That hurricane was Arthur in the very early morning hours of July 4, 2014.

I was in the eye of the category two hurricane over the Oregon Inlet in fact where the wind was about as calm as could be for about 20 minutes. Arthur produced moderate storm surge flooding, in some cases 4 to 5 feet of it, along portions of the Outer Banks, mainly south of Oregon Inlet. The disruption to tourist season was a major issue but the area rebounded quickly and fortunately, no other hurricanes had direct influence on the Outer Banks that season.

I will cover Arthur’s anniversary and more in my video discussion which will be posted later this afternoon.

M. Sudduth 10:15 AM ET July 4

2014 hurricane season over but it kept me busy with four field missions

The 2014 Atlantic hurricane season is now officially over. We can enjoy a full six months of not having to worry about hurricanes – at least that’s the way it should be. You never know, but by and large, from December through the end of May, the Atlantic Basin behaves itself.

We ended up with eight named storms and six hurricanes. That’s not too shabby for a season that was supposed to be very quiet. Out of the six hurricanes that formed, two became major with Gonzalo leading the way, peaking out at 125 knots before weakening as it approached Bermuda. All in all, the season was tame for the United States – with a few exceptions. For Bermuda and Nova Scotia, it was a different story. The same can be said for parts of the Southwest United States and of course Mexico but those impacts were from east Pacific hurricanes which were plentiful and fierce.

Over the next four weeks, I will post a series of reports on how the 2014 season was from a field-mission stand point. Actually, the season afforded me several opportunities to study the effects of hurricanes, some in very unique geographic locations. I never take that privilege for granted and am humbled to be able to do what I love while contributing to the science and understanding of these amazing forces of Nature. Hurricanes are not evil, they are necessary and it’s just a matter of leaning to live with them. Each time I encounter the effects, no matter how severe (or weak) I learn something new and utilize that knowledge when speaking to groups, conferences and in my future field work. Since few people ever truly experience the full-on wrath of a hurricane, I have a duty, in my opinion, to translate my experiences and data in to something that can help people prepare. I still believe that the single largest issue we face is the public’s lack of understanding of tropical cyclone hazards. Too much attention is placed on wind or category and not enough on the whole picture.

I was lucky to have been in the eye of two hurricanes this past season: Arthur in early July and Gonzalo in mid-October. Each presented me with opportunities to capture valuable wind and pressure data while also documenting the events with video and social media work.

In addition, I spent almost 10 days out in the Southwest United States where two dying Pacific hurricanes unleashed tremendous amounts of rain over areas that normally remain arid yet depend on these rare events for moisture. The results were incredible and set records in some cases. Sadly, lives were lost and property was damaged or destroyed while significant disruptions to travel and commerce wreaked havoc. These stories don’t grab the headlines in the normal way that we are used to when dealing with hurricane impacts. Rest assured, as I will show you, the only difference is location and where the hurricanes originated. I observed it first-hand and will discuss my findings within the blog posts over the coming weeks.

Tomorrow, I will begin with hurricane Arthur which made landfall along the North Carolina Outer Banks during a time that is critical to the local economy. There were several firsts that took place, all of which I will go over in detail in tomorrow’s post.

M. Sudduth 9:30 AM ET December 1

Hurricane Arthur: a success story for the science

Radar screen grab showing my location as the eye of hurricane Arthur passed over me

Radar screen grab showing my location as the eye of hurricane Arthur passed over me

The hurricane Arthur field mission to the Outer Banks of North Carolina was one of the most successful in our history. We had more technology to throw at it than in any other event. The results have been fantastic! I want to share some of those with you now.

First of all, a HUGE thanks goes out to Jesse Bass, Mike Watkins, Paul Bowman and Kerry Mallory for helping to make this as stress-free as possible. I may be the guy on TV sometimes but there is a real team effort going on here and it shows in our results.

The goal was to gather data and report on conditions. We succeeded 100% with that goal.

Screen capture from our app showing the live weather data coming in from the anemometer placed on a house in Rodanthe, NC

Screen capture from our app showing the live weather data coming in from the anemometer placed on a house in Rodanthe, NC

Jesse and I arrived in Rodanthe about an hour before sunrise on Thursday, July 3. Within 45 minutes, the weather station was set up and streaming live data to our our app, Hurricane Impact.

By early afternoon, we had flown the quad copter three times in three separate places to show the area before Arthur pushed through. I felt it was important to see the region before the high water lines and debris in order to compare later and piece together the how and why of the storm surge that was sure to affect the area.

We set up a live streaming camera, with audio for the first time ever, at a home in Hatteras Village. I thought there was a chance for significant surge flooding there as we saw during Alex in 2004. It did not happen this time due to a different track than Alex took but the camera ran perfect for over 24 hours – a new record for our technology. You have to understand, these unmanned cameras are completely self-contained with their own battery supply, etc. This was a milestone for our live video capability. The Weather Channel used the shot numerous times and our other private clients tuned in from time to time to check things out. Even when the power to the village was out, it was great to be able to at least hear the wind and rain hitting the case that housed the camera system.

I did not deploy any additional live cameras due to the fact that Arthur was going to move through during the middle of the night (why do most seem to do that? Grrrrrr!). However, we did have a new device, a live surge cam that we do not anchor to anything – we call it the “Drifting Surge Cam”. I was hesitant about deploying it, again, since it was dark. Then, I thought, what the heck? I might as well test some of its capabilities like being able to track it via satellite. If we did not get any decent live or recorded video, so be it, let’s see if the concept works in a real surge event. It did!

I set the DSC out with the help of Jim Cantore right where he was reporting from in Waves, NC, on the sound side of Hwy 12. Within an hour or so, the live stream quit for unknown reasons but the GoPro inside kept going. We also noticed it was moving once the eye went past the location and the wind switched directions and pushed the Pamlico Sound over the area.

From what we hear, the water rose several feet in mere minutes. Too bad it was dark, the DSC would have captured that rise in full HD! There will be a next time and we are already working on putting LED lights on the unit to at least let us see something as opposed to nothing.

Once I knew the eye was not going to pass over Jim’s location, nor mines in Rodanthe, I drove up Highway 12 towards the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge building. I knew the parking lot was elevated enough to keep me safe from any surge that might come in later. I captured wind data on the Tahoe’s anemometer which recorded a peak gust of 81 mph at nine feet above the ground. Not bad for a fairly low height of the anemometer.

Our weather station recorded a peak gust of 70 mph at 10 meters above the ground in Rodanthe. This makes sense due to the fact that the eye wall did not pass over Rodanthe, not like it did where I was or in the Pamlico Sound itself where WeatherFlow, Inc recorded higher winds than I did via their instruments over the water.

My lowest pressure was 977.3 millibars as the eye moved over me just south of the Oregon Inlet – not even a mile. During the eye I carefully drove on to the Bonner Bridge to position myself as close to the eye’s center as possible. It was an amazing few minutes as the calm set in and precip dropped to nothing.

After the eye passed over, I went back south on Highway 12 a couple of miles and witnessed the storm surge racing in from the sound. I have never seen the water rise that fast in all my years of doing this. Some of the video I shot of that happening was thought to have been time lapse it happened so quickly. I assure, it was not! The surge literally pushed up Highway 12 from higher elevation points to lower ones, coming at me like an army. I was in virtually no danger since I had the Bonner Bridge behind me and it was easily 12 to 20 feet higher than the sound as you go up the approach. This safety net allowed me to document the surge coming in which I will use to show people who have no clue about such forces and hopefully motivate them to evacuate if ever told to do so. My experience with the area, knowing what to expect, where to go and how to be safe is a big part of the success of the mission.

Drifting Surge Cam GPS track showing its sart point and where it ended up and was found by The Weather Channel's Jim Cantore

Drifting Surge Cam GPS track showing its sart point and where it ended up and was found by The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore

Now, since the surge did some damage to Highway 12, I was not able to get back south on the 4th to Rodanthe or Hatteras to retrieve my equipment – or the Drifting Surge Cam. We tracked it via satellite until it seemingly stopped “phoning in”. We wondered if it had quit, was it found and taken by someone? What happened? It clearly moved from where we left it, in fact, by several blocks. This, in and of itself, was remarkable. The DSC worked, it drifted and we captured its GPS trail. I do not know of any other time that surge has been studied with a drifting GPS device. This will help us to understand the flow pattern and how fast the case was moved. Why does this matter? It further emphasizes the fact that you cannot wait until you know there is a danger, as in see it happening with your own eye, and then act. Evacuation saves lives and storm surge is the main reason evacuations are called for. This data will help us in pushing that message out during future events.

With me being cut off from Rodanthe and points south, I had to just head back to Wilmington where I live.

I talked to Jim Cantore and asked him to go look for the DSC. He was stuck in Waves and could not leave until Saturday afternoon. We sent him a map showing where the last signal was received and sure enough, Saturday morning, he found it right where it was supposed to be – covered in mud and gook! Success! No more losing surge cams to surge like we did in Katrina back in 2005. This is a huge breakthrough for our work and I am very happy with the results!

What did the GoPro cam capture? Nothing really, it was just too dark. That is the way it goes sometimes but the victory we take away is that the technology allows us to get closer to a hurricane’s lethal impacts than ever before without putting people in the way of it. We can see and study the effects in new ways, offering new perspectives for our audience and clients such as The Weather Channel. I have always wanted to bring live weather data to the mix for national television reporting, now it is happening – the science is being integrated in to the news.

Mirlo Beach area two days after hurricane Arthur. You can see where the surge pushed in from the Pamlico sound though with proper mitigation, the damage was minimal and the area is recovering rapidly

Mirlo Beach area two days after hurricane Arthur. You can see where the surge pushed in from the Pamlico sound though with proper mitigation, the damage was minimal and the area is recovering rapidly

I am back in Rodanthe now completing some post-Arthur work, including aerial video from the quad copter. I want to see the effects of the surge on the landscape, how the geography gets changed. Seeing it from above is the only way to do so on the scale that I need. Four years ago, this would not be possible as it was too expensive for this type of technology.

The good news is that the Outer Banks are fine. You will hardly notice anything happened out here except for a few areas where the surge was especially deep and debris is strewn about. The ocean is great, no worries there at all. Come on down and visit, take a vacation. Someone told me it was a slice of heaven out here – I agreed and even though a day of hell comes along every once in a while, those are few and far between compared to the natural beauty that lures so many people to the region year after.

The tropics are quiet, at least in the Atlantic and east Pacific. Out in the west Pacific, a powerful typhoon is raging. It’s that time of year – best to be alert and ready if the pendulum swings back in to the Atlantic before all is said and done. Thanks for following our work and we’ll see you out there the next time.

M. Sudduth 10:30 AM ET July 7

Time to head to the Outer Banks

Hurricane warnings are up and it is time for action. People along parts of the North Carolina coast will have to endure a hurricane threat, and possible direct hit, this Fourth of July. It’s a very rare event indeed and not one that people will want to remember the holiday period for. None the less, it is part of living on the coast and this too shall pass – but not without some anxious moments ahead for sure.

My best advice at this point for people in harm’s way is to listen to your local officials. Seek out local information via social media and Web sites. Weather.gov is a great resource with Hurricane Local Statements that give detailed information about what to expect and when. For people who know the drill, they are springing in to action now. For visitors who may think this is exciting, well, it is by the very nature of the beast but it’s a dangerous kind of excitement and this situation needs to be taken seriously. If you’re asked to evacuate, do it. I know it stinks to lose vacation time but you don’t want to get stuck on the Outer Banks for 10 days with no food or water – trust me on that.

Speaking of being stuck, hopefully that won’t happen to me. I’ll be heading out to Hatteras Island tonight. Gotta get there before 5am tomorrow or I can’t get in. I will deploy my equipment and then seek out high ground to ride it out in relative safety. I have enough supplies for 3 days so I will likely be ok – if not, my fat reserves will kick in 😉

Follow along live via Ustream as I travel to the Outer Banks. I’ll stop in Williamston for a couple of hour’s nap later tonight and then it’s on to Hatteras.

Click here for the link to the live Ustream feed. It will be active for as long as I can possibly keep it going.

You may also follow along in our app, Hurricane Impact. I will post video reports often throughout the next few days. The app is a fantastic way to keep up with what is going on and will have the live weather data and web cam image feeding in to by later tomorrow. Search Hurricane Impact in the App Store and on Google Play.

I wish my friends and other folks who follow our work the best of luck with Arthur. Hopefully it won’t be too bad but I am fearful that we are looking at a potential ugly situation for a portion of the NC Outer Banks. I will do my best to provide accurate, non-sensational information for you, thanks for following along!

Mark Sudduh 7:15 pm ET July 2