Hurricane season is approaching, time to put Drifting Surge Cam to the test

Drifting Surge Cam

Drifting Surge Cam

With less than two weeks to go until the Atlantic hurricane season begins, it is time to dust off the equipment and make sure things are ready for any potential field missions this season.

One piece of equipment that we are putting in to operation this year is our newly developed Drifting Surge Cam (DSC). I first introduced it last month during the National Tropical Weather Conference in South Padre Island, Texas. The idea behind the project is to provide a live stream of storm surge from the storm surge. That’s right, the black box, loaded with an array of high-tech recording devices, will be placed out where the storm surge is expected to be significant enough to inundate the coastline. Instead of being locked down and attached to something, it will be allowed to drift with the rising water, going where ever the flow takes it. In essence, it will be part of the debris but poses no hazard to property or people (anyone not smart enough to have evacuated had better hope they don’t see it drifting by – that would be a really bad sign). The DSC floats on top of the water like an oil tanker, almost impossible to capsize. It is equipped with a live streaming camera that will provide a unique look, and sound, of storm surge as it happens. There is also a GoPro camera that will record incredible HD video for up to 13 hours.

In addition to the video aspects, the DSC will also transmit its location via satellite so that we may track it in near real-time. Seeing it move with the storm surge as it advances will be really interesting and should provide us with data that can help to understand how fast the water rises and what the debris flow is like. All of this from a perspective that would likely be lethal for a person to try to accomplish.

We tested the DSC in Galveston back in February with exceptional results. Tethered to a 100 foot rope, it was dragged out nearly 100 yards in to the cold Gulf of Mexico where 3 to 4 foot waves tried to capsize it. I could not believe how well it performed on its first test. The data and the video were simply perfect, totally exceeding my expectations.

Now, it is time to put it to another test. This time in conditions that more closely resemble storm surge.

We know that storm surge is a gradual rise in water as a tropical cyclone approaches land. The wind literally pushes the water on to the coast, rising more rapidly as the radius of maximum winds approach. The effect is similar to the tides, especially low tide coming in to high tide. At low tide, a lot more land is exposed that is normally covered in water. As the tide comes in, the water level rises and inundates estuaries, inlets, beaches, etc. On top of the rising tide are waves of varying height and period. There is also usually a local wind effect that helps to push the waves along.

Mason Inlet, along the north end of Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina

Mason Inlet, along the north end of Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina

The idea is to place the DSC in an inlet, Mason Inlet to be specific, right before the tide reaches its lowest point. From there, it does its thing while the tide slowly makes its way back in. Inch by inch, the water will rise and will eventually float the DSC. Once it goes buoyant, it should drift along with the current of the incoming tide. The inlet is perfect since there are ocean waves coming in. If all goes well, the DSC will end up near the back of the inlet, floating on top of the rising tide, bobbing along like a cork in a stream.

Low Tide will occur near 9:50 AM Friday morning

Low Tide will occur near 9:50 AM Friday morning

All the while this is happening, the DSC will stream live video, with audio, and transmit its location. This time, you can watch as it takes place. I will have a special page set up with two streaming video player consoles – one for the DSC, the other for our hand-held “everywhere” cam. This will give you a look not only from the DSC but also from my perspective along the shoreline. The entire test will probably take 4 to 5 hours. I am going to haul quite a bit of gear down to Mason Inlet and be set up for the duration. In fact, I also hope to fire up the Phantom quad copter to provide a live stream from the air as the DSC moves along in the inlet.

You will be able to track its progress via a link to our SPOT locator device which will update every 2 1/2 minutes.

Once the test is complete, I will process the video and the data to provide an assessment of how things worked out. The time lapse alone of the incoming tide should be really cool to see. Add to that the drift data from the GPS recorder inside the case and it completes a unique picture that can ultimately provide more clues as to exactly how storm surge works.

The test is scheduled for this Friday beginning at around 9:30 AM ET. I will Tweet about it and hope to answer your questions and take feedback along the way. The weather looks to be incredible all week long with Friday being seasonably warm. The water temp is in the low 70s which is a heck of a lot better than the Gulf of Mexico back in February. It should be an exciting day and I hope you can tune in from time to time to check things out.

I’ll post another update on the test Thursday afternoon which will include the links and the page that will have the live video feeds.

M. Sudduth 6:50 AM ET May 19



New method of observing and understanding storm surge

In 2005, Mike, Jesse and I worked to develop a remotely operated unmanned camera system that could be placed out in a hurricane to capture and stream the effects. Mike and I first deployed the system during the infamous hurricane Katrina in Gulfport, Mississippi. Katrina won – for the most part. We didn’t give up and used the encouragement from people such as Max Mayfield to continue refining the project and eventually have a successful deployment.

Since that fateful day in late August of 2005, we have placed the so-called Surge Cam in numerous hurricanes with spectacular results. The best example is from Ike in 2008 along Galveston’s coast. In fact, we had three Surge Cams streaming live, covering nearly 15 miles of the region.

The video that is streamed live gives the public, media and emergency management a real-time look at what is actually happening as the surge progresses. The archival video yields valuable data in the form of understanding the process of storm surge, how fast it inundates the coast and what the flow of water, and the debris within it, is like. Using time lapse to speed up the action gives us a unique look at patterns that ultimately tells us how storm surge behaves. In the end, it aids in demonstrating to the public just how dangerous storm surge is and why measures must be taken to protect life and mitigate property damage.

Over the years we have worked to make the Surge Cams more efficient and far easier to deploy. The live video feeds have become spectacular as wireless data has become more robust. We can thank Sprint for their support of these efforts dating back more than a decade.

Now it is time to take a new approach- one that will change how we view storm surge in a very profound way.

Drifting Surge Cam

Drifting Surge Cam

Today, while attending the National Tropical Weather Conference in South Padre Island, Texas, I am pleased to introduce you to our newest project: the Drifting Surge Cam (DSC). What is it? Quite simply- a pair of high-tech eyes accompanied by an assortment of data recording devices, to be placed untethered where storm surge flooding is expected to occur.

The DSC will be placed just inland from the oceanfront and the breaking wave zone. As the surge begins to inundate the area, the DSC will begin to float. As the water rises, the device will float along, pushed by the wind and flow of water. It will go where ever the surge takes it. All the while, one camera will stream live video with audio as a second cam, a GoPro, records the event in stunning HD. We will experience the storm surge from an incredible perspective as it happens.

Meanwhile, GPS recording equipment inside the DSC will capture position plots every five seconds. This will tell us volumes about the flow of the surge, how fast debris moves, and how high the water rose.

In addition, pressure and temperature sensors will record data every six seconds further enhancing our data set of the hurricane as it makes landfall.

How will we find the DSC once the hurricane passes? We learned during Katrina that losing the Surge Cams was in fact possible given the amount of damage that accompanies such an extreme event. We have satellite based tracking that will tell us the precise location of the DSC every 2 1/2 minutes. We also have radio based tracking technology in case the unit does not have a clear view of the sky. If we can get to within a half mile of it, we can “hear” it talking to a hand held radio and zero in on its resting place. Who knows? It may still be streaming live, providing us with clues as to where it ended up.

The chance for discovery through this project, much like our HURR-B weather balloon project, is exhilarating to think about.

For the public, media and local officials, the DSC becomes an important tool for knowing precisely when the surge has begun to inundate an area. Seeing, and hearing, the surge from just inches on top of it is incredible to think about. Who knows what we will see and hear as it drifts along, getting  pounded by debris in the water, relentless wind and swirling, angry water. It could be perhaps a little unnerving to witness the lethal power of storm surge from this perspective.

In the end, we believe that the use of the DSC will help to motivate people to take action and evacuate when told to do so. We will be able to employ the use of video to help determine accurate water levels as the unit moves along about its journey within the surge. This can aid in the “wind vs water” issues that often arise during extreme surge events. The possibilities are numerous and we hope that the DSC will function as another resource for contributing to the science of hurricanes.

How can you see it when we deploy it? Easy. We have chosen to make the live feed available free of any cost for anyone to view through our public Ustream feed. Media interests are encouraged to link to, share or embed the live feed as you see fit. This device can show people who have no idea of what storm surge is capable of just how bad it can be. That, in turn, may be just what it takes to convince them to leave for higher ground while doing what they reasonably can to mitigate property damage.

We will schedule a live test of the DSC on our Ustream channel sometime later this month in Mason’s Inlet along the north end of Wrightsville¬† Beach, NC. This will provide an excellent simulation of advancing storm surge on an incoming tide. I will post more details about the test later next week.

For now, check out this video of a test that we conducted back in February in Galveston, TX. It is remarkable to me how incredibly buoyant the DSC is. Even fairly large breakers could not flip it or submerge it- not the least little bit. The test exceeded our expectations and gives us confidence that we will have a successful deployment one day – when the time comes. Special thanks goes to Kerry Mallory for braving the chilly Gulf to take the DSC out more than 200 feet on its first test.

Any questions? Shoot me an email:

I will post more on this new project soon.

M. Sudduth April 11





Android app almost ready as we get ready for peak season

Hurricane Impact for Android - coming soon!

Hurricane Impact for Android – coming soon!

I am happy to announce that the Android version of our app, Hurricane Impact, is almost ready. We’re putting the finishing touches on things now and expect it to be ready for sale on Google Play later this week.

Hurricane Impact is the only weather and hurricane related app that features its own live weather data, live web cam images and video reports from the field, during hurricane landfalls.

We take our own weather stations and set them up in the path of the hurricane or tropical storm. App users then have access to live wind and pressure data coupled with a live web cam image that updates once per minute. This is what we call high frequency data – meaning there is a lot of it! You won’t get a new wind reading every 5 minutes, 15 minutes or 30 minutes. It will be EVERY 60 seconds! Can you imagine watching the data streaming in during the eyewall of a landfalling hurricane? You’ll also watch as the pressure plummets as the eye passes over the weather station.

Add to this a live web cam image from the site of the weather station and you have an incredible, innovative and useful tool for truly knowing the impact of the hurricane at landfall. No other app on the planet has this ability- not a single one, not from equipment that was set up specifically for the hurricane.

This feature alone is awesome enough to be its own app! But, as the saying goes, wait! there’s more!

Hurricane Impact also provides users with our daily blog posts, Twitter and Facebook feeds and a daily video blog as well. We will also have content and blog posts from Mike Watkins and his site, Hurricane Analytics. You’ll have exclusive access to model plots, custom made for Hurricane Impact.

Speaking of video blogs- during our field work, the app is constantly updated with video posts from the landfall area. These are not some canned video reports from reporters who did a live shot for a network or local TV station, these are reports from our team produced exclusively for the app. If we think it’s important or interesting, we shoot it and post it to the app within minutes! You’ll have a chronological listing of all of our field reports during each landfall mission. The quality is outstanding and you can watch in full screen right on your device! It will be like you’re there with us every step of the way.

Hurricane Impact features the exclusive Surge Cam to monitor storm surge in real time

Hurricane Impact features the exclusive Surge Cam to monitor storm surge in real time

New for 2013, we have added an exclusive Surge Cam to the app. Storm surge is a major issue that coastal residents have to deal with when tropical cyclones make landfall. The National Hurricane Center is working on new storm surge products that will debut in the coming years. We went ahead and added a new Surge Cam to the app for this season. We will place a live, weather-proof camera unit in an area where storm surge is forecast to be significant. There will be a marker in the view of the camera to indicate how high the water is rising. App users may then watch as the water rises, creeping up the marker as the surge gets higher. The cam images will update at least once per minute right inside the app – no need to refresh, the image refreshes automatically. We will even show you where we placed the cam via a map so you can know right where you’re seeing the surge and its effects. Again, no other app has this innovative technology. We plan to add more Surge Cams in future updates – this is only the beginning.

We also have our very own tracking maps within Hurricane Impact. Most hurricane apps use NHC maps and just re-link to them. Not Hurricane Impact. We include our own, in-house generated tracking maps which include our exclusive ocean heat content tracking maps. These show the plot of the tropical cyclone over official TCHP or ocean heat content maps. This helps us to understand the heat potential in the ocean and how much energy may be available along the path of the storm or hurricane.

All of these incredible features are part of what makes Hurricane Impact a must have weather app for anyone interested in hurricanes. The cost for iOS or Android is $2.99 – one time fee. There are no hidden add-ons or annoying ads. Buy it once, we make updates and keep it fresh each season.

I’ll post an update the moment Hurricane Impact is available in the Google Play store. If you’re an iOS device owner, get it now for your device from the App Store. Search Hurricane Impact or click the “Get our app” link at the top.

As for the tropics, things are quiet in the Atlantic and look to remain that way for the week ahead at least. In the east Pacific, TD Gil and TS Henriette pose no threat to land as they move across the open waters of the Pacific.



Storm surge is major threat from hurricanes

Storm Surge From Hurricane Isaac in 2012

Storm Surge From Hurricane Isaac in 2012 as captured from one of our older generation Surge Cams. Top image is before Isaac on August 28 while the bottom image is during the height of the surge along the Mississippi coast. The water rose several feet at this location along Gulfport Harbor.

This week is Hurricane Preparedness Week and as such, each day has a topic related to hurricanes and being prepared.

Today’s topic is storm surge – one of the most devastating effects from a tropical cyclone. Historically, storm surge kills more people than any other tropical cyclone hazard. We saw a period of time from 1970 through 2004 when few people lost their lives due to surge. Then, in 2005, Katrina changed all of that with scores of lives lost due to surge from the Missisisppi Sound as well as the catastrophic flooding from storm surge coupled with the failure of New Orleans’ levee system.

Sadly, the trend continued, though not to the same scale fortunately, with Sandy last October as storm surge swept in to areas along the New York and New Jersey coasts. A vast majority of the damage from Sandy was the result of storm surge and battering waves.

Most people do not understand storm surge and how it can affect them. Almost all evacauations in a hurricane are because of the threat of storm surge flooding. Studies are done to predict traffic flow, behavior patterns and response to evacuation orders. In most cases, people will wait as long as possible to determine whether or not the threat to their immediate location is substantial enough to warrant the trouble of leaving. While this is an understandble trait of human nature, it could lead to deadly consequences.

Let’s take hurricane Ike from 2008 as an example. It was an especially large hurricane that generated an enormous surge of water that was quite literally pushed towards the northwest Gulf of Mexico coastline. The NHC had forecast Ike to become an intense category three hurricane for several days before its landfall near Galveston on September 13. Yet, thousands of people remained on Galveston Island despite A) the city’s infamous history with hurricanes and B) the warning that people would face “certain death” if they remained behind.

If someone told you that if you remained in your car on a hot July day with the power off and the windows rolled up that you would face certain death, what would you do? I am guessing that 100% of you would not remain in your car under those conditions. Why? Because you know what will happen. You have felt the car get really hot before and have the A/C to fire up in order to make it tolerable. The point is, you’ve experienced the conditions that could kill you before yet you have the tool (A/C) to mitigate the worst from happening. It is that experience with a very hot car that has taught you not to remain inside of it for any length of time during warm to hot days.

The same cannot be said of storm surge. Most people who live along the coast have never experienced a storm surge from a tropical storm or hurricane. Thus, they have no idea what they’re dealing with. They have not seen it with their own eyes and do not grasp the concept of how much energy moving water has. They are shown maps on TV and the Internet and are told to evacuate. Often times, most people do not unless they sense danger.

I suppose that as Ike approached, some people did not sense any danger and chose to remain behind. The resulting storm surge as at least 20 feet high in some locations with thousands of homes either destroyed or seriously damaged by the flood waters. Lives were lost because people did not evacuate though scores of lives were indeed saved because of adequte warnings and people heeding them.

I guess since seeing is believing that we have to do something to further convince people of how bad storm surge can be.

As I announced in a blog post a few months ago, we are going to provide a publicly accessible, brand new, completely redesigned “Surge Cam” that will stream live video from the teeth of the next hurricane and its storm surge. We have been using an older technology for the past seven seasons that ended with Sandy last October. Now, we have new and more effecient technology that will allow us to place un-manned cameras anywhere we wish with almost no risk to either ourselves or to the equipment. We’ve made a decision to make one of these units available through our public Ustream channel at no cost to those who watch. The idea is to show people the effects of storm surge and convince them through live video that storm surge is a lethal, destructive force. We hope to place the Surge Cam in an area where a significant impact from storm surge is expected. The new camera systems last for at least 30 hours now, allowing us more time to place them in locations that no humans have any business being in as the hurricane and its surge sweep in. Perhaps this will help to motivate people to evacuate and take the appropriate measures to mitigate loss to property as well.

We will have three other Surge Cams dedicated to our Client Services members – after all, it’s their funding that supports this effort in the first place. We just thought it would serve the public and local officials, as well as the media, to provide one Surge Cam feed free of charge. Thanks to advances in technology, we can do that starting this season. Once we have a threat of a landfall, I’ll post the URL of the Surge Cam in a blog post and on our Twitter and Facebook pages. People are encouraged to share and embed the player as much as they wish. Anyone in the media may use the feed on-air and on their websites as they see fit. Just credit please – that’s all we ask.

It looks like a very busy season ahead. I hope that folks along the coast, especially newcomers, do their part to better understand the risk from tropical storms and hurricanes. For more info, including excellent video resources, check out the NHC’s preparedness page here: NHC Hurricane Preparedness