DVD Review: Hurricane Charley: Punta Gorda, Florida

Weathervine’s “Hurricane Charley: Punta Gorda, Florida†DVD is really two documentaries for the price of one. It is both an unmatched look at this intense and damaging daytime hurricane, landing as a category 4 and exhaustively recorded by a crew of seven chasers, and also the most fascinating expose on hurricane chasing yet produced. Because so many cameras contribute to the documentary, Charley’s wrath never escapes the camera, and neither do the actions, fears, and wonder of the chasers involved. This multiple point-of-view develops several storylines and means that every moment is dramatic.

The crisply written narration suggests the engaging story and excellent production values coming up, and tension is obvious as the chasers plan locations, check radar, and make last-minute preparations. With radar loops running, both chasers and viewers alike sense the anticipation of a destructive eyewall approaching.

This buildup delivers dramatically when the eyewall appears across the street, bearing down on the chase team as they report pressure falls and ear pops. As the outer eyewall rips through, political yard signs zip past faster than the eye can see. Driving rain and storm surge builds near shore, as Jim Edds and others use special underwater camcorder housings to capture the dangerously increasing water levels. Later, Jim takes shelter near a bank where he documents debris fields so close, dense, and violent that it nearly makes you blink. Ducked behind a building but shooting out into the street, it appears as if Edds himself will lift into the stream of metal, trees, and glass. This is a horizontal shower of debris, and there is a kind of terrible beauty in the turbulence that peels shingles and carries them in an arc toward the racing cloud deck. It’s hypnotic and easy to understand why the chasers remain in place longer than seems prudent.

When the inner eyewall plows through Punta Gorda, the atmosphere demonstrates power in an entirely new way. The is almost impossible to describe—imagine 1000 jet aircraft at full throttle blasting exhaust down a street. By 4:30, the force threatens to dislodge the entire town, including the various shelters. Eventually all Punta Gorda disappears, replaced by insane screaming wind filled with blinding vapor and a constant roar like an endless nuclear detonation. This is nothing like I’ve seen before or even imagined, frankly.

One of the DVD’s remarkable moments is when the backside of the eyewall catches Chris Collura before he has a chance to return to shelter. Jeff Gammons tells Jason Foster, "I'm worried about Chris...last time I saw him he was standing out around the corner, then I saw a big debris field coming at him and then I didn't see him again..." The next shot is from Collura, bracing himself against a wall in a corridor where winds are streaming through at over 140 miles per hour. Chris struggles to turn and videotape the entrance of the tunnel where light and even time seems to bend in the concentrated drive of wind and water.

For both the catastrophic power of this hurricane and an insider's view of a real hurricane chase, I can’t recommend this “Hurricane Charley: Punta Gorda, Florida†enough. It is available on the Weathervine home page at http://www.weathervine.com

Amos Magliocco