2024 Tropical Season Discussion

Warren Faidley

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Indications are that 2024 could be a very active tropical season, given record high Atlantic and Gulf water temperatures, along with relaxed westerlies.

I prey my existing pursuit budget is adequate to cover multiple deployments.

I'm also hoping this season will not produce the dreaded "Black Swan" event, something we discuss every year the Tropical Weather Conference in South Padre. A "Black Swan" event is a disaster of such magnitude, it overwhelms the entire US response system and devastates infrastructure to the point of total failure. For example, a Category 5 annihilating the Houston or Miami area then slowly moving inland causing catastrophic flooding.

It's going to be an interesting year.
 
I have always wanted to chase a hurricane. In fact, hurricanes were the first object of my love of storms, dating back to my teen years; I grew up on Long Island and used to head to the beach to watch the surf kick up whenever a hurricane or tropical storm was offshore or gave us a glancing blow. I remember the drama of Hurricane Gloria approaching in 1985 - anti-climactic for me in its western semi-circle, but I recall doing a damage survey on my bicycle that evening.

The logistics perplex me though… How do you get yourself a hotel room, when the ones in the path could be closed for evacuation, and the ones inland are too far from the action? (And my understanding is the inland hotels can have arrangements where people on the coast have guaranteed rooms for evacuation; can a hurricane chaser lose his own room to an evacuee?) I read Matthew Cappucci’s book in which he tells the story of arriving in Florida for a hurricane chase only to find that the hotel he reserved a room at was closing and he ended up staying in a shelter overnight. Staying in a vehicle in a concrete parking garage is one solution, but those are not available everywhere; I’d say they’re not very common at all in coastal areas… Those can be closed too… And you won’t know the situation for sure until you get there… Quite frankly it doesn’t sound too appealing to spend 24 hours+ in a car, and not having a hotel room will make it very difficult to do the remote work thing (I can’t take a full week off at a time every time there’s a potential hurricane chase…)

It also seems that if I was flying in, I’d have to choose an airport several hours away from landfall, to make sure I could still shop for supplies without finding bare shelves. I probably wouldn’t be able to carry spare gas as people recommend, because I’d have to store them inside a rental vehicle, which is unsafe. Once I got into the target area, it might already be too late to fill up…

Yet, obviously, people do it… Maybe I am overthinking it… But preparation is critical, it’s not safe to just wing it… Maybe I should start with a minor hurricane, but not sure that would be worth the time, trouble and expense…
 
Staying in a vehicle in a concrete parking garage is one solution, but those are not available everywhere; I’d say they’re not very common at all in coastal areas…

Most of the at least medium-sized cities and towns have at least one. Usually it's at a hospital, but there are commonly a couple in the middle of the downtown area at a municipal building or a hotel. In Panama City it was a church. I always scope out a potential landfall location on Google maps/satellite to look for parking garages or any other safe (and elevated, out of floodwater) spots to hunker down during the eyewall. If I can't find one, that's usually a deal-breaker for a chase. I've called off a few hurricane chases for that reason. Most of the time there's at least one place you can go. There are always multiple chasers and some locals there too, so you're not by yourself. The locals will often bring their cars and even small boats into the garages to protect them.

I probably wouldn’t be able to carry spare gas as people recommend, because I’d have to store them inside a rental vehicle, which is unsafe. Once I got into the target area, it might already be too late to fill up…

Maybe you could rent a vehicle with a hitch, then rent a rack from uHaul? I've never had to do that though so I'm not sure of what the logistics would be like. I always fill up outside of the evacuation zone - I'd imagine flying in, you'd want to arrive somewhere outside of landfall so you could get all of that done beforehand.

Quite frankly it doesn’t sound too appealing to spend 24 hours+ in a car

Nope, definitely not :) No way around that one.
 
another problem that my wife and i discussed. We, or mostly me (lol) , has been entertaining the hurricane chase ideal... is that what if you get STUCK where you are for an extended period of time after the event?
Parking garage could be treacherous also with flooding at the bottom..with submerged nasties lurking below water lines. Again maybe stuck. hmm
 
My supply spec is at least 5 days of food and water for that reason. But, I've always been able to get out right after landfall (with the exception being Isabel in the tall pine trees of northeastern NC, it took 24 hours as even the interstates were blocked by trees). The major highways are usually wide enough to not be completely blocked, and most blockages of main roads usually get cleared within a day. But you have to be prepared and completely self-sufficient for the worst case scenario. You also need tools and materials to make minor vehicle repairs including flat tires and broken windows (not too different from chasing in the Plains, but you won't have a Walmart to stop at for those things after a hurricane).
 
Hurricane chasing as a journalist requires a LOT of tactical and logistical planning if you want to be where the action is and survive. I prefer to be where the storm surge is at maximum destruction levels. Most chasers drive around in their cars to chase, but this limits you to passable roads. I don't want to be in a location with "passable roads!" Finding and conserving gasoline is also an art I have prefected. During a Black Swan event, you better have enough gas to drive at least 200 miles inland after the storm passes.

You have to be very sneaky, stealthy and willing to push the limits to access locations. I did this all the time as a newspaper journalist, so it's nothing new. You are likely going to be wet, exhausted, hungry and in some form of danger for most of the time. With the proliferation of Vibrio vulnificus, even a small cut can be deadly. I carry a big bottle of Betadine to immediately cleanse any cuts or abrasions.

Fighting the fatigue, winds, ocean spray and walking beats the hell out of you. Your brain is hammered hours upon hours by constant situational awareness, surival processing and creative thinking. This is one of the reasons I work out 5 days a week. I also use a lot of safety equipment, like a helmet, safety glasses, emergency locator beacon and a self inflating life-vest, which helped me survive Ian when the water surged over my head. I also deploy several remote cameras.

Over the years, I have made detailed maps of potential locations that could survive assorted hurricane classifications, including storm surges over 25 feet. The best example was following Hurricane Katrina. I downloaded the FEMA aerial images of the destruction and noted which buildings survived and those that did not. Parking garages are NOT always the solution. During Katrina, many garages in Biloxi had the exit ramps washed away, which would have stranded cars inside for weeks if not longer. I carry a professional grade bolt (lock) cutter, in the event some fool chains the garage opening. I'll send a check for the cost of the chain or any damage as a courtesy. I've also stayed in hotels eventough they were "closed." You can hide-out (squat) in your room, as they generally don't check rooms.

You can plan on sleeping in your damp, hot car for 1-2 nights, or more if you cannot exit the region. Although I can generally drive to a shooting location, I also have a set-up where I can deploy via Uber to a location, carrying my own food supply and water for 3-4 days. I had planned to use this method for Fort Myers Beach during IAN, but I could not locate a position in time I thought would survive. Next time I will, using my patented room squatter technique!

It has become increasingly difficult to chase hurricanes from enclosed locations because of crime. Many of the locations I used years ago (e.g., Ft. Andrew), have been totally fortified and can no longer be entered or exited. Some have security guards, but I can usually find a way to Jedi mind trick them and gain access. I have encountered some form of crime at every Hurricane I have covered for the last 10 years. There is a positive side to this. During Hurricane Ian, there was a criminal in the garage who picked the lock to the men's restroom in the garage. I traded him a box of Pop Tarts for access.
 
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I've also stayed in hotels eventough they were "closed." You can hide-out (squat) in your room, as they generally don't check rooms.

How easy is it to do that? Hard to believe they don’t check the rooms. It’s not like they are evacuating in a panic, there is usually ample notice and I would think it’s an orderly process that includes confirming rooms have been vacated…
 
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