A flight through Hurricane Hugo, remembered 20 years later

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 1:21 PM GMT on September 15, 2009

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The remains of Hurricane Fred continue to generate sporadic bursts of heavy thunderstorm activity over the middle Atlantic Ocean. These thunderstorms were generating winds up to 35 mph, according to this morning's QuikSCAT pass. Dry air and high wind shear of 20 - 25 knots today and Wednesday will continue to prevent regeneration of Fred. By Thursday, the chances for regeneration of Fred increase, since wind shear near Fred's remains will fall below 20 knots. However, continued high wind shear and dry air over the next two days will further disrupt the remains of Fred, and there may not be enough left of the storm to regenerate from by the time the wind shear drops. The NOGAPS model forecasts that Fred could regenerate by Sunday, when the remains of the storm will be approaching the Bahama Islands.

Satellite imagery shows a small circulation associated with a tropical wave about 200 miles west of the Cape Verdes Islands. Heavy thunderstorms activity has increased in this region over the past day. However, wind shear is near 20 knots, which is marginal for development, and shear will increase to near 30 knots as the wave progresses west-northwest into a band of high wind shear that lies to its north. It is unlikely that this wave can develop into a tropical depression this week, and NHC is giving it a low (less than 30% chance) of developing into a tropical depression by Thursday.

Tropical storm development is possible this week along a frontal zone stretching from the Bahamas northeastward. Anything that develops may end up being extratropical in nature, and would likely move northeastward out to sea.

The GFS model is predicting development of a new tropical wave coming off the coast of Africa early next week.


Figure 1. The remains of Hurricane Fred (left) appears as a swirl of low-level clouds with a clump of heavy thunderstorm activity on the northwest side. A tropical wave is 200 miles west of the Cape Verdes Islands (right), off the coast of Africa. This wave is probably under too much wind shear to develop.

A flight through Hurricane Hugo, remembered 20 years later
The events of September 15, 1989, have affected me more deeply than those of any other day in my life. The fifteen members of our crew very nearly became the first of Hurricane Hugo's many victims, and I am still grappling twenty years later with the emotional fallout from the experience. (If you are troubled by a traumatic experience, you may want to consider EMDR therapy, which I found to be helpful). The process of writing the story of that flight was also very therapeutic, and I worked intermittently for six years on the story while I was working towards my Ph.D. For those of you who haven't read it, do so! I worked very hard on it, and it is a remarkable story.


Figure 2. GOES visible satellite image of Hurricane Hugo taken on September 15, 1989. Image credit: Google Earth rendition of the NOAA HURSAT data base.

The Hurricane Hunters often carry reporters and camera crews on their flights, and the unlucky soul on our flight through Hurricane Hugo was young Janice Griffith of the Barbados Sun newspaper. Her account:

Horror of Hugo's Eye
TO a young reporter, with perhaps more journalistic curiosity than is good for her, it seemed a chance for a good story. To others, who were quick to tell me so, a flight into the centre of a powerful and dangerous hurricane was "sheer madness".

In the end, my journey Friday on a "Hurricane Hunter" aircraft with a hardened, professional crew was nerve-shattering, awesome, and unforgettable. When we limped back into Grantley Adams International after a beating from nature's fury in the form of Hurricane Hugo, I had my story. But I also had to agree that I must have been crazy to have gone in the first place.

Not that I wasn't forewarned.

You sure you want to go?" Dr. James McFadden, manager of the airborne science programmes of the United States Department of Commerce and head of the team asked when I raised the subject following their arrival from their Miami base on Thursday night. "It can be a very dangerous trip".

I wasn't fazed. After all, I'd flown a lot on commercial aircraft, from LIAT to large jumbo jets, and these hurricane hunter were experts who, I was assured, had been in the business of tracking storms in the Atlantic and Caribbean for a dozen years or more. Some had even been at it for 18.

They'd all been through and gone into the eyes of dozens of hurricanes and come back to tell the tale. Not even apprehensive as I, the only woman along with 10 men, boarded just before noon Friday and was shown to one of the four seats in the cockpit, just behind pilot Gerry McKim.

No hostess coming through with complimentary drinks here--or clicking on a seat belt. I was harnessed in like an infant in the rear seat of a car, waist and shoulders securely strapped. "Just in case", I was told.

While I observed, wide-eyed, everyone went about his business with the facility of someone who has done it all before a hundred times over--the pilot and co-pilot, Lowell Genzlinger, the flight engineer, the navigator, the weather experts. Everyone.

Calming effect
Their efficiency had a calming effect and the first half-hour or so, as we headed northeast to investigate and report on the details of Hugo's size and power, was no rougher than any commercial flight I've been on.

But then the sky began to close in with heavy, dark clouds and the 14-year old turboprop plane began to take the kind of buffeting it must have done several times during similar sorties.

The crew treated it all as a matter of course, getting on with their duties, checking radar and charts, communicating their information to headquarters in Miami, doing the other chores that seemed to keep everyone busy.

My notebook tells me we caught up with Hugo at 1:28 pm. For the next hour or so, I wondered why we ever tried--and I got the distinct impression almost everyone aboard wondered that too.

We were surrounded by clouds a dark gray, almost blue, color. The rain pelted down on the fuselage with an intensity that was deafening, like torrential rain on a galvanized roof and with a force that, it was later discovered, burst a small hole in the roof of the fuselage. When it was visible, the sea was almost black, like bubbling tar.

The computer print-out that had registered the wind speed from the time we took off peaked at 185 mph around this time.

We entered the eye--the area of low pressure that is completely calm and marks the centre of the hurricane--at an altitude of about 5,000 feet. Suddenly, my stomach seemed to become detached from my body as as the place dropped, I was told later, to 1,500 feet.

All hell seemed to break loose around and back of me. Briefcases, cups, soda-cans, books, anything unsecured came clattering down. The air conditioning shut down as did the radar and the weather computer. I just gripped the nearest arm and held on for dear life, realizing now why we had all been strapped in so tightly.

"That's unusual", flight engineer Steve Wade said when McKim and Genzlinger got back control of their plane. His attempt at sounding cool was father futile.

Dr. McFadden, a stocky man with gray beard and spectacles, came through, checking on us. He was visibly shaken.

"Everyone alright?" he inquired. We were but his face mirrored his concern when he told me: "This is the worst experience in all of our years going into a hurricane".

Soon there was to be even more. It was discovered that engine No. 3--the near right-side--had conked out. The pilots reported it was on fire and they had to shut it down. Another one was working but not at full capacity.

My life, I knew, rested in the skilled and experienced hands, and heads, of those in control of this wonderful piece of machinery. But, to tell the truth, I was never overcome by fear or panic. Somehow, I sensed all would be well.

Perhaps if I'd known more it would have been different, for we still had to find our way back out of the eye, to penetrate the wall again, and to gain elevation. To do that, on reduced power, meant jettisoning 7,000 of our 10,000 pounds of fuel to lighten the load and circling for an eternal hour while this was done.

Finally, a "weak spot" was found in the cloud formation and we could make an exit from the prison of the eye where we had been trapped for a frightening hour. Around us, winds were now registering 155 knots, and the plane was still being hammered by the weather.

But we were out of the eye and Dr. McFadden, in jubilant relief, exclaimed: "Let's get out of here". He echoed the feeling of everyone aboard.

The system engineer, Schricker ("that's it, don't worry about the first name", he said when I pressed) was more explicit. "I've been flying for 18 years and I don't think I want to fly again," he said.

As we got out of Hugo's clutches and left him to make his way towards the eastern Caribbean, Dr. McFadden put the experience in perspective for me. "You didn't really know what you went through," he said as we headed back to Grantley Adams, itching to back on Terra Firma. "We almost didn't get out of the eye. We almost didn't make it. It was a serious situation".

I believed him--and couldn't help wonder at the bravery of these men who so frequently risk their lives so that others may be saved from the destruction of the storms that head across the Atlantic annually between June and November.

They were working at Grantley Adams yesterday on getting that engine back into shape so that they could be ready the next time another one comes along.

They must be crazy!


Figure 3. An account of the September 15, 1989 flight through Hurricane Hugo posted by reporter Janice Griffith in the Barbados Sun newspaper.

Comments on Janice's story
The rain didn't really punch a hole the fuselage of our airplane as Janice reported. Also, we penetrated the eyewall at 1,500 feet, and dropped to 880 feet during the extreme turbulence in the eyewall. Other than that, Janice has the facts pretty well in hand, particularly the "They must be crazy!" part. Three of us--myself, radio operator Tom Nunn, and electronic engineer Terry Schricker--never flew again on a hurricane hunter mission. However, four members of that flight--Hurricane Field Program Manager Dr. Jim McFadden, Chief Systems Engineer Alan Goldstein, Navigator (now flight meteorologist) Sean White, and the director of NOAA's Hurricane Research Division, Frank Marks--continue to fly into hurricanes to this day.

I caught up with Janice Griffith via email last year, when I invited her to a "Hurricane Hugo survivors luncheon" for the twelve people from that flight who are still alive (alas, radio operator Tom Nunn, electronic engineer Neil Rain, and chief scientist Dr. Bob Burpee have passed on). Six of us got together at a hurricane conference in Orlando. Janice is still working as a reporter in Barbados, and couldn't make it. Her email to me:

"Nice Hearing from you.
Well after that trip into the eye of Hurricane Hugo,
I certainly will not be going on another.
We almost lost our lives.
And whenever I think about it...I just get some shivers".

Jeff Masters

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Quoting Drakoen:


Those early model runs take it towards the Bahamas


18z Nogaps has a weak system over south florida.
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Updated SSD.

Hopefully they put a floater on it soon

Member Since: June 9, 2007 Posts: 4 Comments: 15950
07L.Fred on the Navy site
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Quoting Drakoen:
Chances may get bumped up to orange
agreed
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Quoting hurricane23:
Pretty amazing stuff if it manages to make it across and impact the u.s. being at its latitude. As of what is yet to be seen.


Those early model runs take it towards the Bahamas
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Quoting reedzone:


I think it might be TD now, convection is deep and covering the LLC. Wow, what a comeback, amazing what a few hours can do.
convection is actually at the top and slighly to the right of coc covering only the extreme n of the centre at the moment lets wait a few hrs here on ebhanced wv shows lots of dry air wrapping around entire area except the ne area
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 178 Comments: 55971
Quoting Drakoen:
Chances may get bumped up to orange


Indeed.

It just needs to persist until tomorrow morning then we may have Tropical Depression Fred again.
Member Since: June 9, 2007 Posts: 4 Comments: 15950
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Quoting Drakoen:
Convection continues to rise, if convection can cover he "complete" LLC, we might have TD Fred.
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Pretty amazing stuff if it manages to make it across and impact the u.s. being at its latitude. As of what is yet to be seen.
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Chances may get bumped up to orange
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Quoting futuremet:


I use FoxArc Screen Capture freeware. It can take images anywhere from region, windows, and full screen.


Cool!

Thanks for the link. Ill give it a try.
Member Since: June 9, 2007 Posts: 4 Comments: 15950
Quoting Stormchaser2007:


Have to use a screen capturing program then upload them to an image hosting site.

I use Screen Hunter.


I use FoxArc Screen Capture freeware. It can take images anywhere from region, windows, and full screen.
Member Since: July 19, 2008 Posts: 43 Comments: 4051
505. JLPR
Fred is looking alive xD
I said regeneration by Wednesday and now it seems possible
it all depends now, if Fred manages to hold on to its convection and develop more then expect the second coming of Fred lol
Member Since: September 4, 2007 Posts: 36 Comments: 5223
Blog Update
Reflector site for those at work, includes Dr. Masters & Weather456, daily update.


AOI

AOI

AOI

AOI
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FredEx? lol now thats a good one
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Quoting Stormchaser2007:


Have to use a screen capturing program then upload them to an image hosting site.


easy then...

thnks
Member Since: July 19, 2008 Posts: 43 Comments: 4051
Good afternoon everyone! Looks like "FredEx" may become "Fred" again!

Honest to God, this little tropical critter may pull a real" Houdini" here and rise from his remnant L status! This season, Fred may join the ranks of the "bi-polar" systems, with Ana, Danny, Erika, the "on again/off again" fits of convection! Simply amazing what wind shear, dry air & Tutt L's can do do a system!!

Hopefully, IF "Fred" is "for real" here and regains his TD or TS designation, this won't get too out of hand! Tenacious Fred!!
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Quoting futuremet:


How do you post NOWCOAST images here?


Have to use a screen capturing program then upload them to an image hosting site.

I use Screen Hunter.
Member Since: June 9, 2007 Posts: 4 Comments: 15950
Remembering Hurricane Jeanne 5 years later

At 1600 UTC on September 15, Jeanne made landfall near Guayama, Puerto Rico with winds of 70 mph (115 km/h),[1] and as it moved ashore it was in the process of developing an eye. Across the territory, the storm produced heavy rainfall, peaking at 23.75 inches (605 mm) on Vieques Island. Rainfall across the region resulted in moderate to severe river flooding, with several river stations in Puerto Rico reporting historical levels. Light winds, generally around tropical storm force, affected the region as well. Winds at 70 mph and it is moving WNW at 8 mph.


Satellite image of Tropical Storm Jeanne making landfall


Current and Forecast Track
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Quoting ElConando:


Theorectially, if Fred were to regenerate and become a hurricane, major or not. Would it be the first time that a Hurricane degenerated only to regenerate and become a hurricane again?
Good question, I will look into that and let you know if I find anything.
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Quoting Stormchaser2007:
FULL IMAGE



How do you post NOWCOAST images here?
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Good to see everyones coming out of lurking...

Updated image

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Quoting superpete:
I'd be interested to see that if you have a link futuremet/ thanks!


Link
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Quoting futuremet:
18Z NOGAPS expects tropical cyclogenesis in the Caribbean.
I'd be interested to see that if you have a link futuremet/ thanks!
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I see the NHC is running their models on Disturbance Fred. Convection has increased and upper level winds may become more conducive for development. The SHIPS keep shear at marginal levels which would allow for some slow development.
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FULL IMAGE

Member Since: June 9, 2007 Posts: 4 Comments: 15950
Quoting ElConando:
456 Jeannne never became a remnant low I believe just a TD and then went up from there.


yea just a TD, well cant remember if a storm ever did that
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Quoting Weather456:
Breathtaking



Best looking eye i've seen in a while. Looks like a black hole.
Member Since: September 6, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 3784
Time to head home. BBL.
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And, thanks to you, CybrTeddy, for the post.
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Thanks for the clarification.
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Breathtaking

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456 Jeannne never became a remnant low I believe just a TD and then went up from there.
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18Z NOGAPS expects tropical cyclogenesis in the Caribbean.
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Quoting Seastep:


I'm not so sure on re-developed systems. Don't know if they require quite as much persistence.

Can anyone else confirm?


If they develop convection on top of a pre-existing circulation then it usually takes about 6-12 hours.
Member Since: June 9, 2007 Posts: 4 Comments: 15950
Quoting Weather456:



Not all the way, early in Fred's life I thought a series of troughs would of pick it up. It was only until a week ago I realized that it was coming west due to the nature of these very same troughs.


Fred seems to be playing hard to get with the troughs. It is now becoming more likely that it will bypass the upcoming one.
Member Since: July 19, 2008 Posts: 43 Comments: 4051
Quoting ElConando:


Theorectially, if Fred were to regenerate and become a hurricane, major or not. Would it be the first time that a Hurricane degenerated only to regenerate and become a hurricane again?


Jeanne 2004, lost the the original circulation over Haiti and a new one reformed northeast thereof

I vividly remember that afternoon. Jeanne was a hurricane before striking Haiti and became a hurricane again as most of you know when it struck Florida.
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Quoting hurricaneseason2006:


Well you've been correct all the way.

Saturday

Thus, these models are being inconsistent for now and it is likely Fred will weaken to a tropical depression over the next couple of days. The remnants of Fred will be watched as I don’t think it may dissipate completely.

Sunday

Elsewhere, the low-level remnants of Fred are churning stationary in the Eastern Atlantic. This is expected to head west-northwest over the next few days under shallow layer flow where it will be monitored for development.

Today

QuikSCAT revealed that the system has a well define low-level closed circulation and any substantial increase in shower activity could result in re-development. It will be monitored as most models show the storm missing the next trough and heading west under mid-level ridging.

I read you and StormW blogs everyday and have been assessing your performances. Thanks much.



Not all the way, early in Fred's life I thought a series of troughs would of pick it up. It was only until a week ago I realized that it was coming west due to the nature of these very same troughs.
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Quoting CybrTeddy:


Needs to maintain that convection for about 7 more hours before TD.


I'm not so sure on re-developed systems. Don't know if they require quite as much persistence.

Can anyone else confirm?
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Quoting reedzone:


I think it might be TD now, convection is deep and covering the LLC. Wow, what a comeback, amazing what a few hours can do.
The convection...although convection has considerably in the past several hours...still looks poor, I don't think we will have a TD that soon, but I think if convection continues to fire and it has a good D-MIN, then we might have a TD in less than 48 hours.
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Member Since: June 9, 2007 Posts: 4 Comments: 15950
Quoting Ameister12:

To late Stormschaser2007.


Deleted.
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Quoting reedzone:


I think it might be TD now, convection is deep and covering the LLC. Wow, what a comeback, amazing what a few hours can do.


Needs to maintain that convection for about 7 more hours before TD.
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Quoting Weather456:


It was wrong for some to claim Fred was dead when this comes as no surprise since Fred never lost a LLCC.
Fred is somewhat the same latitude as Ike last year..Very Intersting//Those Cape Verde seedlings are very hard to die..
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Quoting reedzone:


I think it might be TD now, convection is deep and covering the LLC. Wow, what a comeback, amazing what a few hours can do.


Give it some time lol

This blowup isnt even an hour old. Lets just see if it can hold.
Member Since: June 9, 2007 Posts: 4 Comments: 15950
ok all we now most call Fred fat that his new name
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Quoting ElConando:
Even if it becomes a TD it will be called TD Fred.
Quoting Stormchaser2007:
If Fred becomes a TD then it would be called Tropical Depression Fred.

To late Stormschaser2007.
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.
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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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