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 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

When there are no hurricanes, plan for when there are

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

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 wieghs 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

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

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

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

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.

We are ready. Make sure you are too.

M. Sudduth 10:45 AM Dec 1

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.