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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Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting ElConando:
Even if it becomes a TD it will be called TD Fred.


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.
Member Since: July 1, 2008 Posts: 13 Comments: 7437
Beat to the punch.
Member Since: June 9, 2007 Posts: 4 Comments: 15950
Quoting Seastep:


Yes.
Quoting Tazmanian:



yes it will be fred it gets its TS back




thanks.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Even if it becomes a TD it will be called TD Fred.
Member Since: September 6, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 3784
Quoting Hurricane009:
Weather456, Is there a new invest in the atlantic????
Yes ,,Fred.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting tkeith:
so if Fred re-devlopes into a TS his name is still Fred?



yes it will be fred it gets its TS back




Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting tkeith:
so if Fred re-devlopes into a TS his name is still Fred?


Yes.
Member Since: September 9, 2008 Posts: 6 Comments: 3414
Quoting Tazmanian:
hes back


000
WHXX01 KWBC 151842
CHGHUR
TROPICAL CYCLONE GUIDANCE MESSAGE
NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
1842 UTC TUE SEP 15 2009

DISCLAIMER...NUMERICAL MODELS ARE SUBJECT TO LARGE ERRORS.
PLEASE REFER TO NHC OFFICIAL FORECASTS FOR TROPICAL CYCLONE
AND SUBTROPICAL CYCLONE INFORMATION.

ATLANTIC OBJECTIVE AIDS FOR

DISTURBANCE FRED (AL072009) 20090915 1800 UTC

...00 HRS... ...12 HRS... ...24 HRS. .. ...36 HRS...
090915 1800 090916 0600 090916 1800 090917 0600

LAT LON LAT LON LAT LON LAT LON
BAMS 20.1N 46.7W 20.7N 49.8W 21.9N 52.9W 22.9N 55.9W
BAMD 20.1N 46.7W 20.9N 49.0W 21.7N 51.6W 22.3N 54.2W
BAMM 20.1N 46.7W 20.9N 49.3W 21.8N 52.3W 22.6N 55.3W
LBAR 20.1N 46.7W 20.9N 49.4W 21.8N 52.4W 22.5N 55.6W
SHIP 30KTS 34KTS 40KTS 44KTS
DSHP 30KTS 34KTS 40KTS 44KTS

...48 HRS... ...72 HRS... ...96 HRS. .. ..120 HRS...
090917 1800 090918 1800 090919 1800 090920 1800

LAT LON LAT LON LAT LON LAT LON
BAMS 24.1N 58.9W 25.9N 63.7W 27.7N 67.2W 29.2N 71.0W
BAMD 22.6N 56.8W 23.0N 61.9W 23.3N 66.3W 23.4N 70.1W
BAMM 23.3N 58.2W 24.2N 63.6W 25.0N 68.2W 25.6N 72.4W
LBAR 23.1N 58.6W 24.2N 64.4W 23.2N 68.2W 22.2N 69.3W
SHIP 48KTS 52KTS 56KTS 59KTS
DSHP 48KTS 52KTS 56KTS 59KTS

...INITIAL CONDITIONS...
LATCUR = 20.1N LONCUR = 46.7W DIRCUR = 283DEG SPDCUR = 16KT
LATM12 = 19.3N LONM12 = 43.3W DIRM12 = 282DEG SPDM12 = 15KT
LATM24 = 19.1N LONM24 = 40.5W
WNDCUR = 30KT RMAXWD = 45NM WNDM12 = 25KT
CENPRS = 1010MB OUTPRS = 1012MB OUTRAD = 210NM SDEPTH = S
RD34NE = 0NM RD34SE = 0NM RD34SW = 0NM RD34NW = 0NM
Models forecasting a TS in a couple of days...Expect code orange and, although unlikely maybe red, at 8PM.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Member Since: June 9, 2007 Posts: 4 Comments: 15950
Quoting Weather456:


It was wrong for some to claim Fred was dead when this comes as no surprise since Fred never lost a LLCC.


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?
Member Since: September 6, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 3784
Quoting jurakantaino:
If it this strengthening trend continues ,soon Ex-Fred will become Fred again.


Get my mail??
Member Since: July 17, 2009 Posts: 71 Comments: 27210
Quoting Weather456:


It was wrong for some to claim Fred was dead when this comes as no surprise since Fred never lost a LLCC.
so if Fred re-devlopes into a TS his name is still Fred?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Redundant
Member Since: September 9, 2008 Posts: 6 Comments: 3414
Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:




Keeper check the date.
Member Since: June 9, 2007 Posts: 4 Comments: 15950
Quoting reedzone:


In fact, Fred was never a wave after it degenerated, it kept a strong circulation all the way.


It was wrong for some to claim Fred was dead when this comes as no surprise since Fred never lost a LLCC.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Ameister12:
Ex-Fred(07L) is looking better and very interesting.


It does appear Fred could be getting ready to Regenerate, will be interesting to see what the next TWO says about it.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
REMOVED
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 178 Comments: 56140
Quoting Weather456:


Fred is not a wave. It is closed therefore it is a low.


In fact, Fred was never a wave after it degenerated, it kept a strong circulation all the way.
Member Since: July 1, 2008 Posts: 13 Comments: 7437
hes back


000
WHXX01 KWBC 151842
CHGHUR
TROPICAL CYCLONE GUIDANCE MESSAGE
NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
1842 UTC TUE SEP 15 2009

DISCLAIMER...NUMERICAL MODELS ARE SUBJECT TO LARGE ERRORS.
PLEASE REFER TO NHC OFFICIAL FORECASTS FOR TROPICAL CYCLONE
AND SUBTROPICAL CYCLONE INFORMATION.

ATLANTIC OBJECTIVE AIDS FOR

DISTURBANCE FRED (AL072009) 20090915 1800 UTC

...00 HRS... ...12 HRS... ...24 HRS. .. ...36 HRS...
090915 1800 090916 0600 090916 1800 090917 0600

LAT LON LAT LON LAT LON LAT LON
BAMS 20.1N 46.7W 20.7N 49.8W 21.9N 52.9W 22.9N 55.9W
BAMD 20.1N 46.7W 20.9N 49.0W 21.7N 51.6W 22.3N 54.2W
BAMM 20.1N 46.7W 20.9N 49.3W 21.8N 52.3W 22.6N 55.3W
LBAR 20.1N 46.7W 20.9N 49.4W 21.8N 52.4W 22.5N 55.6W
SHIP 30KTS 34KTS 40KTS 44KTS
DSHP 30KTS 34KTS 40KTS 44KTS

...48 HRS... ...72 HRS... ...96 HRS. .. ..120 HRS...
090917 1800 090918 1800 090919 1800 090920 1800

LAT LON LAT LON LAT LON LAT LON
BAMS 24.1N 58.9W 25.9N 63.7W 27.7N 67.2W 29.2N 71.0W
BAMD 22.6N 56.8W 23.0N 61.9W 23.3N 66.3W 23.4N 70.1W
BAMM 23.3N 58.2W 24.2N 63.6W 25.0N 68.2W 25.6N 72.4W
LBAR 23.1N 58.6W 24.2N 64.4W 23.2N 68.2W 22.2N 69.3W
SHIP 48KTS 52KTS 56KTS 59KTS
DSHP 48KTS 52KTS 56KTS 59KTS

...INITIAL CONDITIONS...
LATCUR = 20.1N LONCUR = 46.7W DIRCUR = 283DEG SPDCUR = 16KT
LATM12 = 19.3N LONM12 = 43.3W DIRM12 = 282DEG SPDM12 = 15KT
LATM24 = 19.1N LONM24 = 40.5W
WNDCUR = 30KT RMAXWD = 45NM WNDM12 = 25KT
CENPRS = 1010MB OUTPRS = 1012MB OUTRAD = 210NM SDEPTH = S
RD34NE = 0NM RD34SE = 0NM RD34SW = 0NM RD34NW = 0NM
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
As I mentioned yesterday, Fred is going to go through pockets of light wind shear, so we might see wind shear increase again later on tonight or tomorrow, it sure looks like a TD to me with convection around the center. Maybe Fred will be back to a Tropical Cyclone by the morning if shear stays in it's favor and it continues to organize.
Member Since: July 1, 2008 Posts: 13 Comments: 7437
Quoting MiamiHurricanes09:
In the current state 07L is (a wave) the best forecasting model for 07L will be the BAMM. BAMS, and mostly BAMD.


Fred is not a wave. It is closed therefore it is a low.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Weather456:
As i said this morning, Fred only needs a significant increase in shower activity to be re-designated.


Getting interesting. Thats for sure.
Member Since: September 6, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 3784
Quoting iceman55:



In the current state 07L is (a wave) the best forecasting model for 07L will be the BAMM. BAMS, and mostly BAMD.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Ex-Fred(07L) is looking better and very interesting.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Ameister12:
Some convection is starting to flare up with ex-Fred.
If it this strengthening trend continues ,soon Ex-Fred will become Fred again.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting jeffs713:

Sure there is a similarity.

Aside from intensity, the clarity of the eye, the structure of the eye, the good outflow on all quadrants of Katrina, the location, the higher relief in the CDO of Katrina, and more defined feeder bands of Katrina.


LOL
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Finally Dr. Lyon mention that Fred is not dead and a threat to the central or southern Bahamas, northern antilles unlikely of any significant effect, so it seems.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
As i said this morning, Fred only needs a significant increase in shower activity to be re-designated.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting WeatherStudent:


Central Cuba, wow! Isn't that too low?
You just want it to come to Miami, sorry I just hade to say it.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting LaCoast:


Man I am afraid that the swine flu is all we will hear about this winter. The media will make sure of that.


Ever heard of the Spanish Influenza?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting Hurricane009:
Weather456, Is there a new invest in the atlantic????


we don't need an invest for Fred.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:


07L/LOW/FRED
MARK
19.8N/47.7W
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 178 Comments: 56140
Quoting Stormchaser2007:
Based on recent satellite images we may see Fred go up to orange.

Looking rather interesting



Certinally is a fighter but one must remember these things are not alive. They can die a the drop of hat in this conditions.
Member Since: September 6, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 3784
Starting to see Choi-Wan is visible satellite imagery.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting ElConando:


your quite optamistic.


50% chance over the next 72 hours?

Eh, it might be but we'll see.

Member Since: June 9, 2007 Posts: 4 Comments: 15950
Based on recent satellite images we may see Fred go up to orange.

Looking rather interesting

Member Since: June 9, 2007 Posts: 4 Comments: 15950
424. HadesGodWyvern (Mod)
Japan Meteorological Agency
Tropical Cyclone Advisory #30
TYPHOON CHOI-WAN (T0914)
6:00 AM JST September 16 2009
=========================================

SUBJECT: Category Four Typhoon near Marianas

At 21:00 PM UTC, Typhoon Choi-wan (915 hPa) located at 18.4N 143.9E has 10 minute sustained winds of 100 knots with gusts of 140 knots. The typhoon is reported as moving west-northwest at 7 knots

RSMC Dvorak Intensity:

Storm-Force Winds
=================
90 NM from the center

Gale-Force Winds
================
350 NM from the center in east quadrant
270 NM from the center in west quadrant

Forecast and Intensity
=======================
24 HRS: 20.4N 140.9E - 100 knots (CAT 4/Very Strong Typhoon)
45 HRS: 22.6N 139.1E - 100 knots (CAT 4/Very Strong Typhoon)
69 HRS: 25.8N 139.2E - 100 knots (CAT 4/Very Strong Typhoon)
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
http://weather.noaa.gov/pub/data/raw/fz/fznt23.knhc.off.nt3.txt

AMZ088-160330-
SYNOPSIS FOR THE SW N ATLC INCLUDING THE BAHAMAS
530 PM EDT TUE SEP 15 2009
.SYNOPSIS...LOW PRES 1009 MB CENTERED NEAR 29N72W WILL GRADUALLY
SHIFT NE OF THE AREA THROUGH WED MORNING. A TRAILING TROUGH
EXTENDING THROUGH EASTERN CUBA WILL START TO MIGRATE NW ACROSS
THE NW BAHAMAS AND INTO FLORIDA BY FRI. A SECOND TROUGH...THE
REMNANTS OF FRED...WILL MOVE INTO THE WATERS N OF PUERTO RICO ON
FRI...THEN MIGRATE WEST REACHING THE SE BAHAMAS ON SAT...THEN
INTO CENTRAL CUBA ON SUN.

$$

Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Fred is blowing up at DMIN, this should tell you something.
Member Since: July 1, 2008 Posts: 13 Comments: 7437
Quoting Stormchaser2007:
Tropical Update as of 5pm.





your quite optamistic.
Member Since: September 6, 2009 Posts: 2 Comments: 3784
Quoting Seastep:
TS winds already based on microwave:



Let me know if I'm stretching too much for some folks and I'll link it.

*Modified to add winds to intro.
That is ex-Fred/07L, correct?
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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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