It all began along the Outer Banks of North Carolina.|
As a child, I recall visiting the beach with my parents and my younger brother. As I grew, I learned about the history of the coast; including the Gaveyard of the Atlantic and other legends related to storms and hurricanes that had impacted the region dating back to settlement times.
In middle-school, I had a science teacher who knew a lot about the weather and hurricanes im particular. His influence on me made a lasting impression which included closely tracking hurricane Diana in 1984. Combined with the fact that cable TV was now a part of most American homes, and as such I had access 24 hours a day to networks such as The Weather Channel and CNN, I was hooked. Weather was my calling...or so it would seem.
I also had an affinity for music. I enjoyed playing the piano and often improvised my own compositions just to pass the time. I took formal piano lessons as a child and thought that perhaps I would one day become a famous singer/song writer. Yet, not far from the forefront of my mind was my love of weather, especially when it made news headlines. I was deeply fascinated by not only the impacts of severe weather and hurricanes but also their role in shaping U.S. history.
My early college days were dedicated to music at the University of North Carolina - Wilmington where I pursued a degree in music. It took about two years for me to realize that music was more my hobby and that weather was my true passion. I applied and was accepted at NC State and Mississippi State for meteorology but ended up remaining at UNC-Wilmington to pursuea a degree in geography...and my eventual wife, Rebecca.
I graduated in spring of 1995 and immediately went to work as a consulting intern for an economic development firm in Wilmington, North Carolina. My duties included writing a report about the so-called return periods of hurricanes to the region. My boss was sure that his firm could attract business and industry to the area and wanted to show that we did not have a serious hurricane problem. I quickly proved him wrong, much to his dismay, and knew right then and there that I had a career ahead of me educating people about hurricanes.
Over the next several years, I worked tirelessly to come up with innovative ways to teach public awareness. I designed poster-size hurricane tracking maps and sold advertising space to business and the media to help fund it. During this same time, five hurricanes struck the North Carolina coast and my career was launched; I was in the right place at the exact right time!
By the late 1990s I began working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA's Project Impact initiative to produce an immense storm surge mapping project for 21 coastal North Carolina counties. My work included ground-breaking computer animations of water levels to simulate storm surge on real-life locations around the region. In december of 1999, my work was recognized by FEMA in Washington, D.C. with a major award.
All during these early years, and the five hurricanes that directly impacted the Cape Fear region where I lived, I studied the impacts closely. Utilizing some of the funding from my projects, I purchased a "chase" vehicle in the summer of 1999. The small SUV, an Isuzu Rodeo, was perfect and I began the field work phase of my career; intercepting numerous tropical storms and hurricanes from 1999-2002.
In 2001, Lowe's and Sprint became major sponsors/partners of my projects. With their funding and exposure, I had the opportunity to branch out and take my preparedness work on the road, visiting retail locations and call centers from New York to Texas.
In 2003, Lowe's supported the purchase of a Chevy Tahoe to replace the Isuzu as the flagship vehicle of our program for hurricane readiness and field observations. The funding was significant and allowed me to purchase high-end scientific meteorological equipment that would measure wind and pressure right from the Tahoe. However, this was inherently dangerous work since I would have to drive the SUV in to the core of a hurricane in order to gather those readings.
The hurricane season of 2004 proved to be a turning point in my projects.
After category four hurricane Charley and the harrowing experience that my colleagues and I endured while intercepting the core near Port Charlotte, Florida, I knew we had to do things differently. It was simply not prudent to park a vehicle in front of a major hurricane even if the goal is to collect data; it was not worth the risk.
I worked with my close friends and colleagues in the business to begin the Hurricane Landfall Project immediately after the Charley event in August of 2004. By the time we got to hurricane Ivan in mid-September, we had transformed the old Isuzu in to a crash test vehicle for hurricanes. The idea of using unmanned video cameras to record the impacts, coupled with remotely operated weather sensors mounted on the roof, led to a huge change in our field operations going forward.
By spring of 2005, using the ever-increasing capabilities of Sprint's 3G network, I worked to develop an unmanned camera system that would not only record video internally, but also stream it live to the Internet.
I had funding from Lowe's and Sprint to develop three unmanned camera boxes and deployed them operationally during hurricane Katrina along the Mississippi coast. The historic storm surge washed all three cam units away; destroying every structure that we had attached them to. The one unit that was eventually located within a pile of rubble had a malfunction and recorded absolutely nothing - a devastating defeat for me personally and for my project.
I pressed on and continued to try to prove that this idea would work. The legendary 2005 season provided ample opportunities for me to succeed and by the time hurricane Wilma made landfall in southwest Florida in late October, I had scored big. One of the new replacement camera systems that had been set up in Everglades City both captured and streamed live the storm surge along with impressive hurricane conditions. The National Hurricane Center had access to the live feed and was able to monitor it in real time. I had finally proven the effectiveness of this idea.
Since that fateful season more than 15 years ago now, the project has evolved and now utilizes much smaller pieces of technology and the 4G network of Verizon to stream live video from a fleet of 15 unmanned camera boxes. The live cams are backed up with GoPro cameras to record the video on to high-capacity memory cards in the event that we lose the live signal.
In addition to the camera systems, I have worked to develop a portable and effective weather station system that captures highly accurate wind and pressure data using the very best in meteorological equipment. The visual and meteorolgoical data is often seen live on The Weather Channel and is used, at no cost to taxpayers, by various NWS offices and the National Hurricane Center.
Today, funding is provided primarily via crowdfunding through Patreon or PayPal. We have nearly 400 supporters from all over the world who contribute a monthly pledge to help keep the project going...and thriving.
My success is owed to the fact that I stuck with it all these years and have had an incredible number of people to assit along the way. I now have a team of volunteers, many of them are financial supporters as well, who assit in various ways in the operation of the field projects and the website functions.
In addition to the news and information I provide, coupled with the live field video and data, I also produce documentaries of my work. This includes a brand new series titled The Hurricane Highway which is set to debut on Amazon Prime Video in July of 2020. In fact, I still use my formal music training to compose and perform my own music for the documentaries that I produce. In the end, I combined my passion for music and weather and have had an interesting career to say the least.
I continue to live in Wilmington with my wife and many children...some of whom also enjoy the weather, especially when it turns sour.
So that's my story so far....thanks for reading.
If you are in a position to support my efforts, join the crowdfunding community by clicking here
If you a with the media and wish to do a story, contact HurricaneTrack Public Relations director, Mike Farrow via email: firstname.lastname@example.org