With a Chevy Tahoe, they take you inside hurricanes
By Sonya Stevenssstevens@abcnews4.com
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- He tracks hurricanes with his Chevy Tahoe.
Mark Sudduth, founder of hurricanetrack.com, grew up in eastern North Carolina and has always been interested in the weather.
"It's just something about hurricanes that captivates a lot of people's imaginationsit did for me, and I wanted to study hurricanes as a career and teach others what their effects are," Sudduth said.
He and his team share an office, which is just a regular SUV -- an SUV with equipment on top and inside that allows them to track tropical systems very accurately.
"The main instrument of choice is the anemometer, and that will measure wind speed, direction and it all feeds right inside," Sudduth said. "So, the anemometer gives us wind speed, direction, barometric pressure, dewpoint, temperature, humidity, and rainfall."
The team also has wind towers that they set up before the storm.
"Cars are not at 10 meters. Some buildings are higher or lower than that. Houses are often only five meters in most cases. So, we have five-meter wind towers that we set up," Sudduth said. "We have a trailer that we bring, set up these aluminum meteorological towers. We anchor them down with guy wires."
The same type of equipment on top of the Tahoe is on the wind towers. Both can send back data remotely using a laptop and a wireless network card.
The number one mission of the HurricaneTrack team is to inform the public of what conditions are like inside the hurricane. They are able to do so at a safe distance.
"We have a very steadfast rule that we do not drive the vehicle through hurricane force winds, it has to be stationary," Sudduth said. "There is no driving around for us in hurricane force winds. You think you have driven in bad weather, there is nothing like trying to drive in a bad hurricane."
So how do they monitor the inside of the storm?
All the equipment in place before the storm moves in.
"Hurricane Charley taught us a lot and really motivated us to come up with a way to do the observation and research with a remote set of equipment where when the situation becomes too dangerous for us that we have an out. So, we developed this remotely operated camera unit," Sudduth said.
It is a basic set-up -- a security style camera and 60 feet of cable. They place it in the corner of a building in a prime location.
"The idea is that we can take this and mount it to anything that we can wrap it around with just duct tape -- a strong palm tree, preferably a concrete pillar, or a big light pole somewhere," Sudduth said. "So, we can attach the camera anywhere we want to and aim it at what we are wanting to see. ...We use a simple air card to stream it out. A strong case keeps everything dry and safe and it's all powered by a giant marine battery. It locks up, and it's not quite air-tight, but it is certainly water resistant."
This unit is called their virtual hurricane chaser and it transmits live video to the website, hurricanetrack.com. The team usually sets up three of them in a tropical system, mainly hurricanes. The information gathered is beneficial not only to the National Hurricane Center, National Weather Service and the media, but also to the general public.
"With social media, now especially, we can keep the public informed just from our tiny little operation with just a few of us out there and a moments notice. Especially via Twitter, and then our live feed, it's instant," Sudduth said. "Especially now, when it's over, we can do our best to survey an area and upload video. People can get to see from a ground level point of view what the effects are."
They even have a remote controlled airplane with a GoPro camera that can fly around and survey the damage the day after the storm.
The team's latest project, a smart phone app, is just another tool to help keep you informed.
"We are really excited about the launch of our app for IPhone/Android devices that will have a lot of this information pumped right into the app," Sudduth said. "And you know with millions and millions of people using mobile devices and the very low cost of apps these days, only a couple of dollars, that could potentially be a huge revenue generator which would in turn allow us to get better, more efficient equipment, maybe start hiring more staff and just grow."
And it will especially help keep you in the loop if you have to evacuate.
"They can just watch what we are doing on the app, our data, our video updates all will go right into that app from where the hurricane is. We are going to market it as the only app that will actually take you into the hurricane, it's specifically designed for that," Sudduth said.
The app will be available for purchase on August 1 on hurricanetrack.com, in the app store, or on Google Play.