The consequence of luck

The last hurricane to make landfall in Florida - hurricane Wilma, October 24, 2005. Not a single hurricane anywhere in Florida since...

The last hurricane to make landfall in Florida – hurricane Wilma, October 24, 2005. Not a single hurricane anywhere in Florida since…

October 24, 2005 – hurricane Wilma makes landfall in southwest Florida as a category three, weakening to a two before exiting the coast near Jupiter.

Wilma caused the single largest power outage in the history of Florida. Despite the rash of previous violent hurricanes such as Katrina and Rita just months before, scores of people went unprepared to deal with Wilma and lined up to receive ice and basic needs for weeks after.

That was the last time that a hurricane, any hurricane of any intensity, made landfall in Florida. It was also the last time that a category three (major) hurricane struck the United States.

Since that time, 66 hurricanes have formed in the Atlantic Basin and none have managed to make it to Florida. Yet, over 2 million people have moved to the Sunshine State since that fateful day in late October, 2005. (These stats from Dr. Phil Klotzbach via his recent Twitter posts – thanks Phil)

I think it is safe to say that Florida in particular and the United States as whole has been remarkably lucky considering what many believed to be the new normal post 2004-2005.

Those who said that could not have been more wrong if they tried.

The hurricane landfall drought for Florida is stunning. The major hurricane landfall drought for the United States just makes it even more so, almost to the point of absurdity. While it may be novel to discuss and remark over the fact that so many people have now gone a quarter of a generation with a grand total of ZERO hurricane experience, it comes with a price. I call it simply “the consequence of luck”.

I liken this theory to a bad driver who constantly speeds and drives aggressively without any consequences – no bad luck as it were. He never gets caught and keeps doing it until one day it all catches up and the worst happens. That driver suffered from stupidity combined with a learned behavior that taught him this equation: good luck while doing bad things = more bad things being done until the good luck ends. The analogy can be applied to anything really that has a negative outcome where luck is involved. Someone who embezzles money keeps doing it until they get caught which is another way of saying that their good luck of not getting caught helped to ensure that one day, they would in fact face the music. It goes on and on and I think the principle applies very well to our hurricane problem.

For ten years coastal residents (inland too) have enjoyed mostly hurricane-free living. Now I realize more than most that yes we have had hurricanes such as Ike, Gustav, Sandy, Isaac and so on. All of those matter for the people they affected. But on the grand scale, we have seen nothing like Katrina for 10 years. That is a good thing, no doubt about it. However, I ask this question: when does the string of good luck become a problem in terms of getting people to act and do their part to be hurricane prepared? During this time of no cat-3+ hurricane landfalls, millions of people have moved to the coast. Have hurricane plans been updated to take this in to account? How many coastal counties have new emergency management directors who have never experienced what a hurricane, let alone a cat-3+, can do? The list of questions could be lengthy if I had the time to think about all the possible bad outcomes to our string of good luck.

If we somehow knew with 100% certainty that hurricanes were a thing of the past, then this would be my farewell blog. Instead, it is my wake up call to remind you of how bad things can get. It’s not hype nor fear mongering – it’s a warning from someone who knows first-hand how miserable life is during and especially after a hurricane, particularly an intense one.

The NHC and local NWS offices are putting forth a tremendous effort to promote hurricane preparedness. Social media with the #hurricanestrong theme is abuzz with tips, ideas, risk assessment links and so on. Does anyone care anymore? I know some do but is it enough? How many people have become so relaxed or worse yet, know nothing about their risk, to pay attention?

I worry about this as we approach yet another hurricane season. The distractions in our daily lives are more than most of us can process. There is so much noise out there that the voice of reason is often muted and lost.

I fear that too many people are apathetic to the hurricane risk and have forgotten what it looks like (and feels like) when people stand in 95 degree heat waiting for ice and water. Forgotten? Heck, it hasn’t happened in so long that I believe it will come as a major shock to our collective souls once it happens again. It will seem worse than it actually is. Why? Because we’ve been lured by Lady Luck in to believing that every hurricane is going to miss or won’t turn out as bad as “they” say.

I am only going to say this one time: you have no idea what you’re dealing with if you think you know hurricanes.

It’s great to be lucky; it’s rewarded many people over the ages. Like time, luck runs out sooner or later and the two are more closely connected than you think.

Do yourself and the rest of us a favor if you live in a hurricane prone region of the United States or anywhere that tropical cyclones can impact: know the risks, know your vulnerability to those risks, make a plan and carry it out when time comes. Or, just flip a coin and hope for the best. My vote is on being armed with knowledge then utilizing that knowledge to minimize the impact.

Hurricane season for the Atlantic begins on June 1. The season lasts for six months. will be on top of it every step of the way. It is my sincere hope that my 20 years of studying the impacts of tropical storms and hurricanes when they affect land will help you to not suffer and become a front page story for Time or your local newspaper. If ever you have a question, no matter how lame you think it is, please ask via email or social media. I take it as a my responsibility to educate others considering that I have had the privilege of doing what I am most passionate about for my career. Be safe this season and don’t worry, most of my blog entries won’t be so full of angst. Sometimes you gotta hit people with a sledge hammer to get their attention 🙂

M. Sudduth

East Pacific hurricane season begins today

East Pacific area of interest well to the southwest of Mexico - it has only a 10% chance of developing further over the next few days.

East Pacific area of interest well to the southwest of Mexico – it has only a 10% chance of developing further over the next few days.

It is time for the east Pacific hurricane season to officially get underway. May 15 marks the beginning of the season for that part of the world and we typically expect to see 16 named storms form in the region.

Right now, the NHC has outlined an area of interest well to the south and west of Mexico but it has very little chance of developing further due to increasingly hostile upper level winds.

The season ahead should be at least as busy as the averages would suggest – perhaps slightly busier due to the residual effects of the fading El Nino. NOAA and the NHC will issue their seasonal outlook soon for the east Pacific and the Atlantic Basin.

I have produced a video discussion covering the start of the east Pacific season as well as some preparedness info since it is also National Hurricane Preparedness Week – you may watch it here:

I will regularly post blog updates and video discussions concerning the east Pacific throughout the season ahead. For now, things look quiet – have a great rest of your Sunday!

M. Sudduth 2:50 PM ET May 15

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


Hurricane immunue system needs a booster shot

Busy seasons with a lot of landfalls like 2005 may actually help us in the long run to be better prepared

Busy seasons with a lot of landfalls like 2005 may actually help us in the long run to be better prepared

I just returned from the 2015 National Tropical Weather Conference in South Padre Island, Texas. The event was fantastic, giving everyone who attended the chance to interact in ways that the larger conferences simply are not capable of fostering. I came away with a renewed sense of hope that the nation is, as a whole, in pretty good shape when it comes to forecasting and tracking hurricanes. However, the preparedness side of things leaves a lot of questions that we may or may not get answers to during the upcoming season.

The single biggest problem that I see, believe it or not, is that we have not had many high-impact hurricanes in a long time. Sandy was an exception in 2012 but that was also in an area that very rarely has to deal with anything like that at all.

I am beginning to see something take shape that worries me. The lack of hurricanes intruding in to our normal, busy lives is leaving us vulnerable and susceptible to disaster later on. Just like being exposed to germs that don’t kill us helps to strengthen our immune system, being exposed to hurricanes on a regular basis teaches (forces) us to take action against future events. We literally build up a resistance for hurricanes and their nasty impacts. We won’t become immune but we can become more disaster resistant.

However, if you isolate yourself in a sterile environment for a number of years, then suddenly go to Chuck-e-Cheese on a busy weekend, I can assure you that the attack to your immune system, what little of it there is, will be swift and severe. The same will likely hold true in the hurricane world. It’s been too long without a major test and thus people simply won’t be prepared to fight.

What is the solution? Simple, we need to have hurricanes to keep our minds focused on being hurricane prepared. Now before you get all tense and full of angst against me for making such bold claims, consider this: in 2005 after Katrina, it became clear that we needed to do something better as a country to prepare for hurricanes. Thus, when Rita and Wilma came along, people really took notice. Sure there were some mistakes, but I am talking about building up resistance to hurricanes. The 2004 and 2005 seasons forced people along the Gulf Coast to become more hurricane resistant. Now, we need a booster shot of sorts.

Again, I go back to my medical analogy. We get regular booster shots to keep our resistance up against deadly diseases. If we falter, we are open for invasion and our immune system is throttled, sometimes with lethal results.

I believe that the lack of hurricanes is actually hurting us in the long term. Out of sight, out of mind, right? We have discussed Florida on numerous occasions: no hurricanes in almost 10 years. NONE. Not a single one. Talk about being vulnerable! Florida is a prime example and when the next hurricane does make landfall, it could overwhelm the system, literally, and lead to a rather unpleasant experience.

If we had hurricanes making landfall along the U.S coast every year, on a regular basis, we would do more to combat their effects. The absence of such malevolent weather leads to apathy and eventually we forget about such monumental events like Andrew or even Wilma. Hurricanes become more about legend and history and less about a real and serious threat.

I cannot blame anyone for not having the urge to prepare for something that seemingly doesn’t happen much anymore. What’s the reason why anyone should? Play the odds and just hope this year isn’t the one when the next “it only takes one” comes knocking.

There really is no solution to this quietly growing problem. Local television stations will continue to run their annual hurricane specials over the next few weeks. Conferences such as the one I just attended will go on as they always have. In the grand scheme, these efforts will reach only a small fraction of the people who would eventually be impacted by a hurricane or tropical storm. The die-hard weather geeks will tune in to the hurricane specials or pick up the latest hurricane guide at the grocery store. Everyone else will go about their various concerns and the complacency will grow beyond our ability to cope when the next great storm is upon our doorstep.

I will say this, the men and women who will forecast such an event are the best in the world. They will stand ready to defend against what is probably going to be a very weakened immune system that we call our coastline. The forecasts will be the best the science can bring us but will it be enough to combat nearly a decade of major hurricane landfall drought? I guess we will find out sooner or later.

M. Sudduth 9:20 AM ET April 14

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