Hurricane Katrina revisited: a book review of The Storm

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 4:56 PM GMT on March 26, 2007

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Last week's stinging report lambasting the Army Corps of Engineers for its failure to build adequate levees to protect New Orleans was written by "Team Louisiana," headed by Dr. Ivor van Heerden of Louisiana State University. He published a book last year titled, The Storm: What went wrong and why during Hurricane Katrina--the inside story from one Louisiana scientist ($17 at amazon.com.) Dr. van Heerden is cofounder and deputy directory of the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center and director of the Center for the Study of Public Health Impacts of Hurricanes. He holds a Ph.D. in marine sciences from LSU, and serves as associate professor of civil and
environmental engineering there. Van Heerden had a very unique perspective of Katrina. He worked tirelessly in the decade leading up to the storm to improve our scientific understanding of how Louisiana's wetlands protect New Orleans from hurricanes. He also worked extensively with FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers, and political figures at the local, state, and U.S. Congressional levels to try to improve New Orleans' disaster readiness. In the aftermath of the storm, he provided support for the search and rescue efforts and plugging of the levee breaches, then headed one of the teams assigned to figure out what caused the levees to fail. PBS's NOVA did a nice story on him last year, featuring interviews with him from before and after Katrina.

Van Heerden is not afraid to speak his mind, and has made many enemies as a result. His criticisms in the book are far ranging, from university administrators to politicians to government administrators, particularly in FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers. Some readers may not like the amount of criticism in the book, but I had no problem with it. Those responsible for the flooding of New Orleans, failed evacuation efforts, and tragically bungled recovery effort need to be held accountable, since it is crucial that we learn from our mistakes. Van Heerden also has considerable praise for the heros of the Katrina disaster--particularly scientists, the media, and recovery workers and volunteers who responded so magnificently.

Van Heerden is a big proponent of building a flood protection system that will protect Louisiana from a Category 5 hurricane. He proposes doing this by restoring wetlands, building armored levees, and installing huge flood gates on Lake Pontchartrain, similar to what the Dutch use to protect their country from the North Sea. I especially liked his continued emphasis on the importance of doing good science. He is not a fan of what politicians and business leaders do with good science: The science is the easy part. The hard part is overcoming the narrow-mindedness and selfishness of politics and business as usual. For decades the two have undermined plan after plan to restore wetlands, build new ones, and thereby protect people and property. They have played hell with improving the existing levee system. We must do better now, or we can kiss it all good-bye for good. I was not exaggerating in the introduction when I said that politics and business as usual in Louisiana will eventually put everything below Interstate 10 underwater. Science and engineering can save the day, but not if they're censored or manipulated. If that's to be the case, just shelve them and start packing. It's over.

The author is not a smooth and gifted writer--his writing is very blunt and somewhat clumsy, despite the help of his co-author, Mike Bryan, a professional writer brought in to make the book more readable. There are two nice graphics showing the Katrina flooding and the author's proposed flood control system, but most of the graphics are poor black-and-white hand-drawn diagrams. Still, I think the book is an important one to read, since van Heerden is an expert on both the science and the politics of the Katrina disaster. I found his descriptions of all the various political battles in the years leading up to Katrina particularly fascinating. His detailed treatment of how the levee system evolved, how it failed during Katrina, and how it should be rebuilt to prevent a future disaster are also interesting. I did skip over some of the more technical engineering details of the levees he presented, which were very detailed. Overall rating for The Storm: two and a half stars.

Van Heerden is pessimistic that the politicians and Army Corps of Engineers can be trusted to make the right decisions to bring about what Louisiana needs--protection from a Category 5 hurricane. Yet, he will continue to battle on for this goal, concluding the book with this cry to action:

As a nation, lets take up the "Rebuild!" battle cry. Now is the time to put politics, egos, turf wars, and profit agendas aside. We owe it to the thirteen hundred Americans who died in the Katrina tragedy. We owe it to their survivors and to all future generations. It's now or never. Let's show the world what we're all about, here in America in the twenty-first century.

I'll have a new blog Wednesday or Thursday.
Jeff Masters

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153. Canetankerous
12:35 PM EDT on March 27, 2007
Just the normal dry season. The problem is, we're in a hole because last summer was also dry. We didn't get as many of the normal afternoon thunderstorms as usual. Also no tropical waves etc. to replenish the ground water.
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152. crackerlogic
4:11 PM GMT on March 27, 2007
I live in Clearwater and we are at the start gator breeding season. So i guess it will be a surprise when people start seeing more gators too
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151. pcshell
10:59 AM EST on March 27, 2007
i agree i am in charlotte county and we have not been any drier then normal grass looks terrible sand coming on the tile normal dry season
150. weatherskink
3:55 PM GMT on March 27, 2007
They , rather .
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149. weatherskink
3:51 PM GMT on March 27, 2007
Greedy developers aside , also blame the South Florida Water Management District , which dropped the lake level in anticipation of Ernesto's rains , which never materialized. The are afraid the dike around the "Big O" wont hold .
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148. bluehaze27
3:25 PM GMT on March 27, 2007
I laugh at those who complain about a "drought" in South Florida and scream for the need for water restrictions. News Flash: every year there is a "dry season" and every year at this time of the year we have very little rain and every year the big lake drops. So what has changed? Greedy developers who continue to build and build and build, that's what. More people means more water usage and yet the stupid county planners wonder why the lake is getting lower each year. Duh!!!! These people need to stop whoring South Florida out to the parasitic developers who have no responsibility for the damage they cause and the water problems they inflict on those already living here.
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147. bluehaze27
3:20 PM GMT on March 27, 2007
Inyo, global warming has nothing to do with frequency of storms. It may help in intensity, but if you look at climatology, you will see that we are in a period very similar to the 1940's where South Florida was hit almost every year and in 1947 was hit twice, one a cat 1 and one a cat 3.
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146. HurricaneMyles
3:01 PM GMT on March 27, 2007
sporteguy03...DRY! Thats how the weather patterns been down here in south FL. Central and North FL had a couple strong fronts roll by or just sit right on them letting them get all the rain (Not all good, they had a few tornados). Down here in S FL we had a handful of real 'cold' fronts, none of which were very wet. Even early in the season when we had a few torndos down here the line of storms didn rain a whole lot.
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145. sporteguy03
2:58 PM GMT on March 27, 2007
What is the weather pattern over Florida? Fire season has been minimal, Does El Nino or La Nina effect this at all?
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144. mrpuertorico
10:52 AM AST on March 27, 2007
if your talking about the low its actually west of pr alittle south of hispaniola
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142. StoryOfTheCane
8:43 AM GMT on March 27, 2007


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141. bdkennedy1
6:22 AM GMT on March 27, 2007
Aynone that "knows" the United States knows that the US will do the absolute minimal job for the most amount of money. Most government employees have no incentive to do anything more than the least amount of work because they know they will be taken care of as long as they're an employee of the US and usually can't be fired. Anyone (everyone) who has stood in line for a drivers license, food stamps, post office, etc., shouldn't be surprised the levees failed. What normal citizen has access to the levee's blueprints to even question the quality of the work done? US citizens are decades behind of how the government thinks and when you put complete faith into the US, you will eventually lose (everything). Have some common sense. New Orleans residents are rebuilding a city that's basically a bowl floating in water. The government failed you, but you're going to rebuild anyway. If I live long enough, I don't want to hear any complaints and sob stories about how New Orleans flooded again. I'm a human being and had some sympathy the first time, but I'll have none the second time. I actually thought, "well, a lot of those people along the coast were poor and couldn't get away." Now some of those people are moving back and taxpayers are going to pay for their unwavering stubbornness.
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140. Inyo
5:37 AM GMT on March 27, 2007
none of the long range forecasts of the last year have been at all accurate? I don't believe any of the new ones either. they 'might' be right, but its just a roll of the dice. I'd imagine there will probably be more hurricanes than 'average' becuase of the peak in the atlantic cycle, and possible global warming effects. but its far from a guarantee
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139. bluehaze27
4:55 AM GMT on March 27, 2007
Here's a recent forecast for 2007:

Forecaster expects very active hurricane season
17 storms, 9 of them hurricanes, predicted in Atlantic by private group
INTERACTIVE

MSNBC.com

Updated: 5:57 p.m. ET March 21, 2007
MIAMI - The Atlantic hurricane season will be exceptionally active this year, according to a British forecasting group, raising the possibility that killer storms like Hurricane Katrina could again threaten the United States.

London-based forecaster Tropical Storm Risk on Tuesday said the six-month season, which begins on June 1, was expected to bring 17 tropical storms, of which nine will strengthen into hurricanes with winds of at least 74 miles per hour.

Four of those are expected to become more destructive "intense" hurricanes, TSR said.

The long-term average for the Atlantic is for 10 storms to form during the hurricane season and for six of those to reach hurricane strength.

The United States emerged unscathed from the 2006 season after it spawned a below-average nine storms, of which five became hurricanes. Experts had universally and erroneously predicted 2006 would be a busy year for Atlantic storms.

None of the hurricanes hit the United States, bringing welcome relief to beleaguered residents of the U.S. Gulf Coast, where Katrina killed 1,500 people, swamped New Orleans and caused about $80 billion in damage the year before.

But TSR said current and projected climate signals indicate that Atlantic basin and U.S. landfalling hurricane activity will be 75 percent above the 1950-2006 average in 2007.

TSR had predicted in December that Atlantic basin and U.S. landfalling hurricane activity would be just 60 percent above average this year. It raised the projected activity level because of the sudden dissipation in February of last year's El Nino weather phenomenon.

An unusual warming of the eastern Pacific waters, El Nino events tend to suppress Atlantic storm activity.

Other experts, including hurricane forecast pioneer Dr. William Gray and his team at Colorado State University, have also warned that the 2007 hurricane season is likely to be busier-than-average.

The relative calm of last year's hurricane season, which forecasters had mistakenly predicted would be busy, came on the heels of a record 28 storms and 15 hurricanes in 2005 and only a slightly less furious season in 2004.

Copyright 2007 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters.
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138. weatherboykris
3:37 AM GMT on March 27, 2007
I don't know if lefty is still around.Members have said they can't wait until me and him meet on here for the first time,so I suppose he hasn't left.I've never spoken to him,so I don't know.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
137. weatherboykris
3:33 AM GMT on March 27, 2007
Yes, I am new this year.I joined last December after lurking all of '06.
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136. rxse7en
11:33 PM EDT on March 26, 2007
Love it! Purple boxes in March. :D

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135. rxse7en
11:24 PM EDT on March 26, 2007
Weatherboykris--you new this season? I don't remember you from the last few years. Where do you live? Me? I'm in Jacksonville, Florida just biding my time...biding my time.

On another note--as I disappear during the "down" time--is leftyy still around?
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134. weatherboykris
3:20 AM GMT on March 27, 2007
Everyone is revving their engines.2 months left.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
133. rxse7en
11:13 PM EDT on March 26, 2007
Jeez. Always freaks me out when you guys post old hurricane warnings/updates--even this time of the year! :D Everyone getting all set for this season? I picked up a generator at the beginning of last season and have yet to open the box. I am now convinced that as soon as I do open the box we're all in trouble.

B

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132. weatherboykris
3:10 AM GMT on March 27, 2007
The thing about Wilma was the gusts,and the fact that it's duration of strong winds was much longer.Besides,most of Broward county didn't recieve Cat 1 winds anyway from Katrina.You probably felt 60mph with gusts to 80.Contrast with 85 and gusts to 105 during Wilma.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
131. billsfaninsofla
10:54 PM EDT on March 26, 2007
We definitely had Cat 1 effects from Katrina in Broward County. Then they say Wilma was only a Cat 1 too? The destruction was not comparable.
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130. 882MB
12:41 AM GMT on March 27, 2007
Hey BahaHurican,I have been noticing that since yesterday, if we were in HURRICANE SEASON we would be worried but too much SHEAR right now, but it does show that the CARRIBEAN IS FULL OF MOIUSTURE A HUGE DIFFERENCE FROM LAST YEAR!
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129. BahaHurican
8:24 PM EDT on March 26, 2007
I'm watching that weather pattern to the east of us with some interest. Currently here the winds have been very high, suggesting that the pressure gradient between that high north of us and the trough to the southeast is pretty steep.

That sure is a broad area of showers for this time of year. Usually it's still cold low fronts that are driving the weather at this time of year. Normally a trough like that wouldn't show up on the map for another couple-three weeks . . .
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128. weatherguy03
8:22 PM EDT on March 26, 2007
Its March. No need to worry about the weather pattern yet. Pay no attention to where the Bermuda/Azores High is located, that will change. We will get a better idea of the summer pattern by June 1st.
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127. BahaHurican
8:07 PM EDT on March 26, 2007
On Katrina's FL landfall, it might be good to remember that only a few hours earlier, around 2 p. m. local time, TS Katrina was passing just north and east of Nassau, Bahamas. I remember (and I think I mentioned this here before) being extremely startled by the storm's sudden onset and by its ferocity. It certainly frightened the office staff into heading off early. It's pretty obvious that Katrina's increase in wind speed as it approached FL was at least partially due to the extremely warm waters encountered while crossing the shallow seas of the Bahamas and the pulsating Gulf Stream.

Also, even as a tropical storm Katrina was larger than Andrew.
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126. ProgressivePulse
11:42 PM GMT on March 26, 2007
Just pray that High moves of the east coast sniper!
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125. ClearH2OFla
7:18 PM EDT on March 26, 2007
Thanks got 40 min left
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124. hurricane23
7:12 PM EDT on March 26, 2007
Adrian's Weather

Dont work to hard...Hope you have a great evening.
Member Since: May 14, 2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13626
123. ClearH2OFla
6:44 PM EDT on March 26, 2007
Thanks im still at work. Been a long day. Congrats on your website. Looks great can you repost the link here so i can ad it
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122. hurricane23
6:43 PM EDT on March 26, 2007
...POTENTIALLY CATASTROPHIC HURRICANE KATRINA MENACING THE NORTHERN
GULF COAST...

A HURRICANE WARNING IS IN EFFECT FOR THE NORTH CENTRAL GULF COAST
FROM MORGAN CITY LOUISIANA EASTWARD TO THE ALABAMA/FLORIDA
BORDER...INCLUDING THE CITY OF NEW ORLEANS AND LAKE PONTCHARTRAIN.
A HURRICANE WARNING MEANS THAT HURRICANE CONDITIONS ARE EXPECTED
WITHIN THE WARNING AREA WITHIN THE NEXT 24 HOURS. PREPARATIONS TO
PROTECT LIFE AND PROPERTY SHOULD BE RUSHED TO COMPLETION.

A TROPICAL STORM WARNING AND A HURRICANE WATCH ARE IN EFFECT FROM
EAST OF THE ALABAMA/FLORIDA BORDER TO DESTIN FLORIDA...AND FROM
WEST OF MORGAN CITY TO INTRACOASTAL CITY LOUISIANA. A TROPICAL
STORM WARNING MEANS THAT TROPICAL STORM CONDITIONS ARE EXPECTED
WITHIN THE WARNING AREA WITHIN THE NEXT 24 HOURS. A HURRICANE WATCH
MEANS THAT HURRICANE CONDITIONS ARE POSSIBLE WITHIN THE WATCH
AREA...GENERALLY WITHIN 36 HOURS.

A TROPICAL STORM WARNING IS ALSO IN EFFECT FROM DESTIN FLORIDA
EASTWARD TO INDIAN PASS FLORIDA...AND FROM INTRACOASTAL CITY
LOUISIANA WESTWARD TO CAMERON LOUISIANA.

FOR STORM INFORMATION SPECIFIC TO YOUR AREA...INCLUDING POSSIBLE
INLAND WATCHES AND WARNINGS...PLEASE MONITOR PRODUCTS ISSUED
BY YOUR LOCAL WEATHER OFFICE.

AT 1 PM CDT...1800Z...THE CENTER OF HURRICANE KATRINA WAS LOCATED
NEAR LATITUDE 26.5 NORTH... LONGITUDE 88.6 WEST OR ABOUT 180 MILES
SOUTH-SOUTHEAST OF THE MOUTH OF THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER.

KATRINA IS MOVING TOWARD THE NORTHWEST NEAR 13 MPH...AND A TURN
TOWARD THE NORTH-NORTHWEST IS EXPECTED OVER THE NEXT 24 HOURS.

MAXIMUM SUSTAINED WINDS ARE NEAR 175 MPH...WITH HIGHER GUSTS.
KATRINA IS A POTENTIALLY CATASTROPHIC CATEGORY FIVE HURRICANE ON
THE SAFFIR-SIMPSON SCALE. SOME FLUCTUATIONS IN STRENGTH ARE LIKELY
DURING THE NEXT 24 HOURS.

My katrina page
Member Since: May 14, 2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13626
121. hurricane23
6:37 PM EDT on March 26, 2007
Posted By: ClearH2OFla at 6:22 PM EDT on March 26, 2007.

Hey Hurrincane 23 any idea on the Up Coming Season.

Looks like an active season is likely this time around but whether or not we see systems turn away from the U.S. or there steared towards the eastcoast by a strong ridge is yet to be seen because its still way to early to know what kind of steering pattern will be in place in 3-4 months.Overall once may rolls around we may begin to see hints on how things might develope.Adrian
Member Since: May 14, 2006 Posts: 8 Comments: 13626
120. weatherboykris
10:29 PM GMT on March 26, 2007
Yeah Jake,you're right.I remembered it wrong.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
119. weatherboykris
10:28 PM GMT on March 26, 2007
Look at that pressure gradient on H23's map!Never seen that before on a model map,too much a lack of storms last year,LOL.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
117. ClearH2OFla
6:20 PM EDT on March 26, 2007
Hey Hurrincane 23 any idea on the Up Coming Season
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116. 147257
9:52 PM GMT on March 26, 2007
lol isnt van heerden a dutch surname
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115. hurricane23
5:57 PM EDT on March 26, 2007
Here is a 00Z GFS pic i saved showing a direct hit over Southeastern Louisiana.


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114. hurricane23
5:43 PM EDT on March 26, 2007
Highest windgust i recorded with my vortex in my house was a 77mph windgust early that evening as katrina's eye moved very close if not over the NHC.
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113. jake436
3:29 PM CST on March 26, 2007
It was a Category 1,although JB thinks that it was a Cat 2.Certainly seems possible given the damage it caused.Gimme a minute and I'll get the link.

According to your link, JB has it as a Cat 1, although a stronger Cat 1 than originally reported...93 mph.
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111. crackerlogic
9:04 PM GMT on March 26, 2007
Storm surge does not always fall true to the category of the storm. It depends on coast line, direction the storm is coming and how long it takes to get to coast line. Katrina was a cat. 5 for a long time in the gulf. The wind speed fell to a cat 3, but the water that was kicked up by the cat 5 winds still have to go some where. Andrew was moving really fast and east coast of Florida is not a big surge area unlike the west side and the gulf with a lot of bays. Charley did not have a big surge because it was only in the gulf for 10 hours and the direction it hit Florida... Also be mind full of the small hurricanes. They seem the have the biggest punch. Charley (8 mile eyes), Wilma (4 mile eye) Labor day Hurricane (2 to 3 mile eye) Andrew (6 mile eye) all the storms where very small at the hight of there power.
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110. weatherboykris
8:44 PM GMT on March 26, 2007
Link
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109. weatherboykris
8:42 PM GMT on March 26, 2007
It was a Category 1,although JB thinks that it was a Cat 2.Certainly seems possible given the damage it caused.Gimme a minute and I'll get the link.
Member Since: December 9, 2006 Posts: 125 Comments: 11346
108. weatherboykris
8:41 PM GMT on March 26, 2007
hello
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107. MisterPerfect
8:26 PM GMT on March 26, 2007
Well whatever it was it brought an overpass down on the Dolphin Expressway...
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106. jake436
2:25 PM CST on March 26, 2007
Link
Here's the Miami radar loop from Katrina
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105. MisterPerfect
8:22 PM GMT on March 26, 2007
I guess I'm speaking the truth when I say each monster storm is different, like finger prints, and severity depends on hundreds of timely conditions coming together, whether it be shear, speed, temperature, depth, whats in its path, whats not, is it day or night, etc...why argue when we all know, whether we're acute weather nobles like MichaelSTL or veteran storm sailors like myself, IT COULD ALWAYS BE WORSE, GIVEN THE CONDITIONS PRESENT
Member Since: November 1, 2006 Posts: 71 Comments: 20135
104. jake436
2:23 PM CST on March 26, 2007
Link

Also, this link shows that it was a Cat 1 in FL.
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103. jake436
2:22 PM CST on March 26, 2007
I believe they changed that to a Cat 1, MP. If you look at the archives from '05, you can see the Miami radar loop of Katrina, and it most definitely developed an eye before striking the east coast of FL.
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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.