Quiet in the Atlantic; lessons learned from Hurricane Hugo's storm surge

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 12:35 PM GMT on September 21, 2009

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The tropical disturbance (98L), midway between Africa and the Lesser Antilles Islands, has grown weak and disorganized. No development of this disturbance is likely to occur.

The remains of Hurricane Fred are still kicking up heavy thunderstorms about 400 miles east of the Georgia-Florida border. Fred-ex's circulation has become ill-defined, as seen in last night's QuikSCAT pass. Fred-ex is under about 20 knots of wind shear, and this shear is expected to remain about the same over the next two days. Fred-ex will be moving ashore Tuesday night or Wednesday along a stretch of coast from Florida to North Carolina, bringing heavy rains to some areas. There is too much wind shear and dry air, and not enough time, for Fred-ex to develop into a tropical depression. I don't expect it to cause any flooding problems when it moves ashore.


Figure 1. Morning visible satellite image of Fred-ex, 400 miles east of Florida.

Twenty years ago today
On September 21, 1989, Hurricane Hugo began the day as a minimum-strength Category 3 hurricane with 115 mph winds. But as a strong trough of low pressure turned the hurricane to the north and accelerated Hugo to a forward speed of 25 mph, the storm took advantage of low wind shear and warm ocean waters to begin a period of rapid intensification. As darkness fell on the 21st, Hugo had grown to huge Category 4 hurricane with 135 mph winds. Its target: the South Carolina coast near Charleston, at Sullivan's Island. At 11:57 pm on the 21st, Hugo made landfall on Sullivan's Island. It was the strongest hurricane on record to hit South Carolina, and the second strongest hurricane (since reliable records began in 1851) to hit the U.S. East Coast north of Florida. Only Hurricane Hazel of 1954 (Category 4, 140 mph winds) was stronger.


Figure 2. AVHRR visible satellite image of Hurricane Hugo taken on September 21, 1989. Hugo had intensified to a formidable Category 4 hurricane with 135 mph winds.

On Isle of Palms, a barrier island adjacent to Sullivan's Island, the mayor and several police officers were sheltering in a 2-story building which lay at an elevation of ten feet. As related in a story published in the St. Petersburg Times, they heard the following bulletin on the radio at 10:30pm the night Hugo made landfall:

"The National Weather Service has issued a storm surge update. It appears that the storm surge will be greater than anticipated. It is now expected to reach a height of 17 to 21 feet."

"Mom didn't raise an idiot," said the one cop with the most sense, and he convinced the others to get off the island. They left the island by driving at 5 mph through horizontal sheets of rain and hurricane-force wind gusts over the Ben Sawyer Bridge, which connected Sullivan's Island to the mainland. As they crossed onto the bridge, they passed over a large bump--the bridge and road bed were at different levels. Not good. While crossing the bridge, they could feel it swaying and straining, and heard the sound of metal, twisting and grinding and breaking. They made it, but only barely--minutes later, the hurricane tore the center span of the bridge from its connection on both ends, leaving it a twisted ruin in the bay.


Figure 3. The Ben Sawyer Bridge connecting Sullivan's Island to Charleston, South Carolina, after Hurricane Hugo. Image credit: NOAA Photo Library.

Hugo's storm surge
In McClellanville, on the coast thirty miles northeast of Charleston, between 500 - 1100 people took refuge at the designated shelter for the region, Lincoln High School. Lincoln High is a one-story school, mostly constructed of cinder block, located on the east side of Highway 17, and was believed to be at an altitude of twenty feet. McClellanville is about 4 - 5 miles inland from the open ocean, but lies on the Intracoastal Waterway, so is vulnerable to high storm surges. Near midnight on the 21st, a storm surge of twenty feet poured into Bulls Bay just south of McClellanville, and funneled into the narrow Intracoastal Waterway. Water started pouring into the high school and rose fairly rapidly. Within minutes, people were wading around up to their waists, the water still rising. In the school cafeteria, many refugees gathered on a stage at one end, putting children up on tables. The elevated stage kept them above water; others floated in the water. Another group was in the band room, which had a much lower ceiling than the cafeteria. They had to stand on desks and push out the ceiling tiles for more breathing room, as the water rose within 1 - 2 feet of the ceiling. Fortunately, Hugo's storm surge peaked at that time, at about 16 - 17 feet (Figure 4), and the people sheltering at Lincoln High were spared.


Figure 4. Estimated storm surge (height above ground) as estimated by NOAA's storm surge model, SLOSH. McClellanville (upper right) received a storm surge estimated at 16 - 17 feet.

According to Dr. Stephen Baig, the retired head of the NHC storm surge unit, the back-story is this: To build Lincoln High School, which lies at an altitude of ten feet, the local school board used the same plans that were drawn up for another school that is west of Highway 17, and that IS at 20 feet elevation. Not only the same plans, the same set of working drawings. Those working drawings showed a surveyed elevation of 20 feet above datum (probably NGVD29). Apparently Lincoln High was constructed either without benefit of elevation survey or the plans were not annotated with its site elevation. When the Red Cross inquired as to its utility as an evacuation site, whoever looked at the plans saw the surveyed elevation at 20 feet. That is what the Red Cross published. That is why the school was a designated shelter. Since that near-tragedy, the Red Cross requires a new elevation survey for every potential storm shelter. I think that at the time this was discovered all the designated shelters also were re-surveyed, just to be sure that no similar Lincoln High problems were waiting to happen.

Only one person died from Hugo's storm surge, a woman who sheltered in her mobile home that got struck by the surge. Her death was one of only ten deaths that have occurred due to storm surge in the U.S. in the 35 years between 1969 - 2005 (after the 100+ storm surge deaths due to Hurricane Camille of 1969, and before the 1000+ storm surge deaths due to Hurricane Katrina). This amazingly low death toll can be attributed to four factors:

1) Greater understanding of the storm surge and better storm surge forecasts issued by the National Hurricane Center, thanks to such tools as the SLOSH storm surge model.
2) The excellent job NWS/NHC/FEMA and state and local Emergency Managers have done educating the public on the potential surge they can expect.
3) The success local government has had making evacuations of low-lying areas work.
4) Luck. The 20+ storm surge deaths on the Bolivar Peninsula in 2008 from Hurricane Ike show that there are still plenty of stubborn, unlucky, or uneducated people who will die when a significant storm surge hits a low-lying populated coast. The storm surge from the next major hurricane that sweeps through the Florida Keys is likely to cause a lot of storm surge deaths, since many residents there are pretty stubborn about not evacuating.

Kudos and links
I thank Ken Bass for providing the details on the Lincoln High storm surge near-disaster. Ken is working on a book on Hurricane Hugo, and has written a very readable book I plan to review later this year, about a fictional Category 4 hurricane hitting New York City.

Hurricanes-blizzards-noreasters.com has a web page with links to tons of Hurricane Hugo stories. Included are links to YouTube videos of a "Rescue 911" episode that interviewed survivors of the Lincoln High storm surge scare. The show also did a re-creation of the event.

Our Historical storm surge page has SLOSH model storm surge animations of Hurricane Hugo's landafall, as well as of 39 other famous hurricanes.

Tomorrow: I'll wrap up my series on Hurricane Hugo.

Jeff Masters

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Quoting Cyberdium:


Spotting trolls 101:
1. Can't find the shift key
2. Doesn't understand punctuation
3. A complete sentence is unknown
4. Total lack of understanding of the English language.

Just my .02 worth...


Amen!
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127. IKE
111....yeah tacoman, I'm real upset over being wrong about anything. I'm so sorry I'm not perfect like you.

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Quoting TheCaneWhisperer:


North Dakota has been in the Mid 50's, no frost there either.


There's frost in Montana.
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Quoting tornadodude:


youre right, but it is so much fun to toy with a troll :P

Almost as much fun as keeping a telemarketer on the phone for 20 minutes, and then saying you aren't interested.
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Quoting tacoman:
reed chill dude you are still in a withdrawl period with fred...fred is dead dude let him RIP..


Spotting trolls 101:
1. Can't find the shift key
2. Doesn't understand punctuation
3. A complete sentence is unknown
4. Total lack of understanding of the English language.

Just my .02 worth...
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
But there he is... big high to the north, shear relaxing and heading for an area (the gulf stream) where he may simply stall. Models have this going onshore, but that is assuming he does not develop. If he does come back, the deeper level system may simply sit under the ridge If it's not ashore by Thursday, a turn southwest down the coast is possible.
Quoting GeoffreyWPB:
Could J.B. be right???

Low % obviously, but these pattern analogs have again returned to early Sept. 1967(among the others), and among the tracks at that time was Doria. Do similar patterns yield similar tracks? I'm not holding my breath.
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Quoting tornadodude:


I even checked Gatlinburg, which is in the mountains, no frost there either


North Dakota has been in the Mid 50's, no frost there either.
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Quoting tacoman:
IKE IT DOESNT MATTER I PREDICTED 6 NAMED STORMS FOR THE YEAR AND HIT IT RIGHT ON THE NOSE..YOU DONT PREDICT AND ACTIVE SEASON WITH AND ELNINO OUT THERE..WELL GUYS 2009 IS HISTORY AND HOPEFULLY ELNINO WILL BE GONE BY 2010..SO HAVE A PLEASNT AFTERNOON ITWILL GIVE THE NEBIES TIME TO LEARN..ITS BEEN FUN GUYS WATCH YOUR BLOBS AND LEARN FROM THEM...IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTION FEEL FREE TO CONTACT ME AND I WILL ANSWER ALL YOUR QUESTIONS..STORM W DONT FEEL BAD WE ALL MAKE MISTAKES BIG GUY..


Why do you always try to cause trouble on this blog-STORMNO-, There is no need to insult others just because you are jealous and have no idea what you are talking about, Storm W is not deserving of your insults he is very helpful to all of those on this blog you might learn a thing or two if you tryed.
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Quoting Floodman:


If the season is over then why are you still in here? Oh yes, I remember now...because you're a troll! Go find something better to do than sit in your mom and dad's basement and get involved in conversations that are way over your head...what's the matter, not good enough at WOW to keep up?


World of Weirdo's (WOW)
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Quoting myrtle1:
ok no wind right.we need the rain


Most likely a rain event for you.
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Quoting myrtle1:
hey reed,here in myrtle beach think we will see some rain from ex-fred



.SHORT TERM /TUESDAY THROUGH WEDNESDAY NIGHT/...
AS OF 3 AM MONDAY...INITIALLY THE FOCUS WILL BE ON THE TROPICAL
WAVE MOVING ACROSS THE REGION TUESDAY. BASICALLY MAINTAINED THE
INHERITED POPS WITH LIKELY VALUES ALONG THE NORTHERN COASTAL VALUES
WITH CHANCE ELSEWHERE. WITH THE LATEST WRF COMING IN SIMILAR TO THE
GFS IN REGARDS TO POSITION...I LIKE THE WRF KEEPING MOST OF THE
HEAVIER RAIN OFF THE COAST. THE TROPICAL NATURE OF THE SYSTEM WILL
MEAN AN ABRUPT CUTOFF TO THE WARM AND MOIST AIR THE SYSTEM FEEDS ON
FROM THE ATLANTIC. THIS WILL PROVIDE A SHARP GRADIENT TO THE
COVERAGE OF RAIN SHOWERS AND QPF AMOUNTS. UNSTABLE SCENARIO
CONTINUES WEDNESDAY BUT ANY FORCING IS LIMITED SO POPS ARE
CONSIDERABLY LOWER. THE LATEST TEMPERATURE GUIDANCE IS IN EXCELLENT
AGREEMENT SO I CANT SEE ANY LEGITIMATE REASON TO DEVIATE...THIS
MEANS CUTTING BACK HIGHS FOR TUESDAY WITH NO OTHER CHANGES.

From myrtle beach NWS
Member Since: September 19, 2005 Posts: 2 Comments: 4251
Well, I'm going to add him to the rest of my stormtop, stromtop, stormno, stormt collection...wait for it...wait for it...**POOF!**
(My capslock key wasn't malfunctioning, by the way)

By the way, good morning, folks!
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ok no wind right.we need the rain
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Ref #60 - tacoman

Thank you so very much for your insight, tacoman. Because of your prediction, I've decided to unpack my hurricane supplies, and tomorrow I'll call my insurance agent to cancel my house insurance.

I'm safe for the rest of the year.

I mean, what could be better than a tacoman guarantee. He hasn't lied to us yet.

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Please stop quoting him,for those of us who have ignored him,please!!!!
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Quoting Floodman:


If the season is over then why are you still in here? Oh yes, I remember now...because you're a troll! Go find something better to do than sit in your mom and dad's basement and get involved in conversations that are way over your head...what's the matter, not good enough at WOW to keep up?


LMAO, isnt it nap time for him anyway?
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 25 Comments: 8360
Quoting myrtle1:
hey reed,here in myrtle beach think we will see some rain from ex-fred


Hmm interesting, no circulation though, just left over moisture, still surprised it blew up this morning.
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Quoting tacoman:
IKE IT DOESNT MATTER I PREDICTED 6 NAMED STORMS FOR THE YEAR AND HIT IT RIGHT ON THE NOSE..YOU DONT PREDICT AND ACTIVE SEASON WITH AND ELNINO OUT THERE..WELL GUYS 2009 IS HISTORY AND HOPEFULLY ELNINO WILL BE GONE BY 2010..SO HAVE A PLEASNT AFTERNOON ITWILL GIVE THE NEBIES TIME TO LEARN..ITS BEEN FUN GUYS WATCH YOUR BLOBS AND LEARN FROM THEM...IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTION FEEL FREE TO CONTACT ME AND I WILL ANSWER ALL YOUR QUESTIONS..STORM W DONT FEEL BAD WE ALL MAKE MISTAKES BIG GUY..


YAWN!!!
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Quoting tacoman:
look i predicted 6 storms and aced it ...i cant help it if you guys predicted anywhere from 10-18 storms lol..not in and elnino year dude..i will be very surprised if another one forms this year with the cold fronts stating to come down..no dude ITS OVER THE FAT LADY SANG...


If the season is over then why are you still in here? Oh yes, I remember now...because you're a troll! Go find something better to do than sit in your mom and dad's basement and get involved in conversations that are way over your head...what's the matter, not good enough at WOW to keep up?
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hey reed,here in myrtle beach think we will see some rain from ex-fred
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105. IKE
Quoting reedzone:


Frost and freeze advisories might go up for them ;)


Heck...I can lie better than he's doing! LOL!
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Quoting CosmicEvents:

It's probably still......FRED.


Ha naw it shows whats left of him going ashore SC/NC border
Member Since: September 19, 2005 Posts: 2 Comments: 4251
Quoting IKE:
Nashville,TN. lows for...

September 15th>>>>Min Temperature 70 °F
September 16th>>>>Min Temperature 69 °F
September 17th>>>>Min Temperature 68 °F
September 18th>>>>Min Temperature 68 °F
September 19th>>>>Min Temperature 70 °F
September 20th>>>>Min Temperature 69 °F


Real frosty in Tennessee***rolls-eyes***


Frost and freeze advisories might go up for them ;)
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Quoting will40:
CMC showing something in Bahamas in 144hrs but no other model verifies. Long way off but something to look at

It's probably still......FRED.
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Quoting IKE:
Nashville,TN. lows for...

September 15th>>>>Min Temperature 70 °F
September 16th>>>>Min Temperature 69 °F
September 17th>>>>Min Temperature 68 °F
September 18th>>>>Min Temperature 68 °F
September 19th>>>>Min Temperature 70 °F
September 20th>>>>Min Temperature 69 °F


Real frosty in Tennessee***rolls-eyes***


I even checked Gatlinburg, which is in the mountains, no frost there either
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 25 Comments: 8360
Actually tacoman, we should of had about 8 storms by now but 90L in May and 92L in June are in speculation for now. While I believe that NJ low was subtropical, a report was made by the NHC declaring that they did not and will not name it in post season analysis. So you're bound to be wrong, please people stop quoting him, I have him on ignore, it's the best thing to do.
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97. IKE
Nashville,TN. lows for...

September 15th>>>>Min Temperature 70 °F
September 16th>>>>Min Temperature 69 °F
September 17th>>>>Min Temperature 68 °F
September 18th>>>>Min Temperature 68 °F
September 19th>>>>Min Temperature 70 °F
September 20th>>>>Min Temperature 69 °F


Real frosty in Tennessee***rolls-eyes***
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Quoting tropics21:
NHC onlky includes Named Storms not Depressions

Tropical Depressions should have their rights!!!
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Quoting PensacolaDoug:
Why ya gotta scream it Taco?


Because he gets better arguments that way...
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Quoting Grothar:


How many windows does this guy have!! We have been watching him for weeks.
Oh, by the way: This is from my back yard.lol



haha he has more windows than microsoft....
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 25 Comments: 8360
Quoting Ameister12:

You do know there were 7 storms or are you not including Tropical Depression 1.
NHC onlky includes Named Storms not Depressions
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CMC showing something in Bahamas in 144hrs but no other model verifies. Long way off but something to look at
Member Since: September 19, 2005 Posts: 2 Comments: 4251
Quoting tornadodude
but his window of opportunity is limited.em>


How many windows does this guy have!! We have been watching him for weeks.
Oh, by the way: This is from my back yard.lol

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there couold be AOI in the far eastern ATL near 8N 37W. there is some cyclonic turning, but the area at the moment is devoid of any significant convection.
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Quoting tacoman:
ROBIE ON THE COTRARY DUDE IM VERY CONFIDENT ABOUT MY FORECAST..I SEE THE COLD FRONTS COMING THROUGH..IN FACT WE HAVE ONE COMING ON FRIDAY A MAJOR ONE..SO I HAVE NO REASON TO BELIEVE I WONT BE RIGHT.I FORECASTED THIS AT THE BEGINNING OF THE SEASON WE WOULD HAVE 6 STORMS AND THAT WOULD BE THE HURRICANE SEASON FOR 2009...NO ROBBY IM VERY CONFIDENT ON THIS FORECAST...

You do know there were 7 storms or are you not including Tropical Depression 1.
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Quoting IKE:


How did that..."frost on the north shore" of Lake Pontchartrain work out last Wednesday morning?

Here's the official low from the NO Lakefront airport for last Wednesday morning>>>Min Temperature 75 °F



also, the trough is not supposed to even come through my area, Indiana, until at least saturday, so what trough is forecast to come down there on friday?
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 25 Comments: 8360
84. IKE
Quoting tacoman:
ROBIE ON THE COTRARY DUDE IM VERY CONFIDENT ABOUT MY FORECAST..I SEE THE COLD FRONTS COMING THROUGH..IN FACT WE HAVE ONE COMING ON FRIDAY A MAJOR ONE..SO I HAVE NO REASON TO BELIEVE I WONT BE RIGHT.I FORECASTED THIS AT THE BEGINNING OF THE SEASON WE WOULD HAVE 6 STORMS AND THAT WOULD BE THE HURRICANE SEASON FOR 2009...NO ROBBY IM VERY CONFIDENT ON THIS FORECAST...


How did that..."frost on the north shore" of Lake Pontchartrain work out last Wednesday morning?

Here's the official low from the NO Lakefront airport for last Wednesday morning>>>Min Temperature 75 °F

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Quoting cchsweatherman:
Just remember fellow bloggers that these trolls feed off attention and if you give them attention and allow them to rattle you, they're going to keep coming back for more. Just ignore them and you will see that they will leave in time since they need that attention to drive them and feed their ids. I will admit that in the past I have been guilty of such, but I have learned this lesson.


youre right, but it is so much fun to toy with a troll :P
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 25 Comments: 8360
Quoting Grothar:



So he's playing with us again? Thanks for the graphics. It is always better when one can see the actual dynamics rather than ooh ooh at a big blob. Appreciate it!


You're welcome!

Yeah...I was bullish on him last Friday and I was wrong. He never got going under the moderate shear. Now that the shear is low, the low level circulation is malformed.
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Just remember fellow bloggers that these trolls feed off attention and if you give them attention and allow them to rattle you, they're going to keep coming back for more. Just ignore them and you will see that they will leave in time since they need that attention to drive them and feed their ids. I will admit that in the past I have been guilty of such, but I have learned this lesson.
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Quoting tacoman:
IKE IT DOESNT MATTER I PREDICTED 6 NAMED STORMS FOR THE YEAR AND HIT IT RIGHT ON THE NOSE..YOU DONT PREDICT AND ACTIVE SEASON WITH AND ELNINO OUT THERE..WELL GUYS 2009 IS HISTORY AND HOPEFULLY ELNINO WILL BE GONE BY 2010..SO HAVE A PLEASNT AFTERNOON ITWILL GIVE THE NEBIES TIME TO LEARN..ITS BEEN FUN GUYS WATCH YOUR BLOBS AND LEARN FROM THEM...IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTION FEEL FREE TO CONTACT ME AND I WILL ANSWER ALL YOUR QUESTIONS..STORM W DONT FEEL BAD WE ALL MAKE MISTAKES BIG GUY..


ok good job with your prediction, now, since you are a master forecaster, you can work on not holding down the caps lock key? maybe a little spell check every now and then?
Member Since: June 28, 2006 Posts: 25 Comments: 8360
78. IKE
Quoting tacoman:
IKE IT DOESNT MATTER I PREDICTED 6 NAMED STORMS FOR THE YEAR AND HIT IT RIGHT ON THE NOSE..YOU DONT PREDICT AND ACTIVE SEASON WITH AND ELNINO OUT THERE..WELL GUYS 2009 IS HISTORY AND HOPEFULLY ELNINO WILL BE GONE BY 2010..SO HAVE A PLEASNT AFTERNOON ITWILL GIVE THE NEBIES TIME TO LEARN..ITS BEEN FUN GUYS WATCH YOUR BLOBS AND LEARN FROM THEM...IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTION FEEL FREE TO CONTACT ME AND I WILL ANSWER ALL YOUR QUESTIONS..STORM W DONT FEEL BAD WE ALL MAKE MISTAKES BIG GUY..


Boy you sure blew it on the last GOM blob...the one you said could dump 10-15 inches of rain on parts of the gulf-coast. The one you said could turn into a cane. The one you said recon would check out, when the recon mission was canceled within the next hour.

I think someone hit YOU, right on the nose and it skewed your train of thought. Your EGO is at cat 5 status right now.
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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.