Thursday, October 20, 2016

Major Hurricane Matthew Intercept-10/6/2016

With the results of my last hurricane chase (Hermine) still fresh in my mind, and going through the stress of getting approved for a loan, down payment, and finding a new car to chase in for over a month now. Another hurricane was taking aim at the US. However, this would be a much bigger beast to tame. It didn't take long for now Matthew to become a Tropical Storm and rapidly intensify into a category 1 hurricane as it tracked into the Caribbean. Initial long range models had Matthew becoming a classic "Caribbean Cruiser" as chasers call them. Taking it South of Cuba and curving up into the Gulf of Mexico turning it into a Major Hurricane (Cat 3 or higher). However, as models got a better handle on Matthew, that solution came to an abrupt hault as models were now picking up on Matthew getting picked up by the first trough, taking it on a due Northerly course into Cuba, Haiti, and the Bahamas and curving back out to sea as another trough ejected from The Great Plains. I had mixed emotions about this. On one hand, I didn't have to stress about missing the potentially first Major Hurricane landfall in a decade because of a car. But, at the same time my inner chaser nerd was clawing at my insides with slight anger that another hurricane would turn out to sea.

Not so fast though! As the event progressed and Matthew now a Category 5 Hurricane (yes you read that correctly) South of Cuba after undergoing a 20mlb pressure drop in less than 48 hours models were now showing something ominous. With each run the trend continued to shift West. Closer, and closer to the East coast. North and South Carolina in particular. Models still weren't showing a landfall before Matthew drifted back out to sea. But we were now within 50 miles of the OBX (Outerbanks) of North Carolina. At this point, I have to look into gambling and heading down to the coast. Even if a Major Hurricane were to stay 50 or so miles off of the coast. The affects would still be destructive. Especially with storm surge. Now, my main problem at this point was the hurricane was projected to near the coast or make landfall a day or two after I had to give my rental truck back. Something I had been driving since my backup car also broke. Yea, its been one of those kinda months. My initial plan was to get a rental car even though I didn't exactly have the extra funds to do so and head down with my chaser partner Alec Scholten (Twisted Sky Tours) and we'd meet up with my other chaser partner Stephen Jones. Nerves were particular higher with Stephen, and for good reason as he has lots of family in South Carolina and some models were showing the exact track of previous Hurricane Hugo. Which made landfall in Stephens hometown causing millions in damages.

Both the Euro, and GFS spaghetti models were now locked and loaded showing the hurricane making landfall along the East Coast in the Carolina's around the 10th-12th time frame. By chance, I walked into my Credit Union to see if I had gotten pre-approved for my loan yet for my new car and sure enough, only a day later it was. Finally, something good was coming my way. Not only was I able to get a car now, I was able to save money by not getting a rental and taking my own vehicle.

Matthew was already on a rampage. Killing hundreds in Haiti, mass damage in Cuba, and now taking aim at the Bahamas. Still as a Category 4 Hurricane. Matthew was now the longest lasting Major Hurricane in the Caribbean in over 30 years. Four days it had been a Major Hurricane now. There was however one slight problem. The Western trend refused to stop and now we were potentially looking at a Florida landfalling Hurricane. What was causing this? A stronger Bermuda High Pressure than originally forecast. A ridge had built over the Atlantic and a Negatively tilted trough (that was sparking severe weather in the great plains while the Hurricane was in the Atlantic) had slowed down. Thus, the Western shift continued. Great. Back in Florida for another Hurricane. What could possibly go wrong like the last time? It was almost as Florida was taunting me to come back for a rematch. Stephen would arrive sooner than Alec and I to scope out areas to ride out the Hurricane as I had to work the day before we left and couldn't hit the road until I picked up my car around 6pm. Which absolutely sucked that this was taking aim at Florida. This mean yet another 14 hour, no sleep drive ahead. Thankfully, I would have someone with me to keep me awake unlike my last minute split decision to chase Hermine and drive the 14 hours all night alone down there. This would also make landfall sooner. Matthew if it were to make landfall would approach Florida on the 6th. So we had to rush as mandatory evacuations were underway up and down the coast, and the biggest evacuation in the history of Florida was underway as models continued to not weaken Matthew and so many models made landfall as a cat 4+ Hurricane. Knowing what had just happened in Haiti, Cuba, and the Bahamas I had a knot in my stomach for this chase. Something I have never experienced before and I hadn't even left yet. Later that night I picked up my new chase vehicle from Richart. A 2011 Chevy HHR with only 75,000 miles on it. Same vehicle as last time, but much newer and much less miles. Literally after leaving the car dealership I made my way to Florida. Which in my eyes is hilarious. I can't think of many people who have bought a new car and then immediately after leaving the dealership go chasing. Total a car by hitting a tree in a hurricane, buying new car, then going to chase another Hurricane. Us storm chasers are a crazy breed. But, when you have passion you are willing to do whatever it takes to persue it.

Of course, before I departed I had to add some Ohio Storm Chasers swag to the car as the bright white paint shined brightly before being put to the test of the over 2,000 mile round trip to Florida. The whole drive to Florida I could not at all shake this scared feeling. The knot in my stomach refused to get untied. With words like "Catastrophic", "deadly", with winds of 150mph+ , and wording by the NWS stating areas will be inhabitable for weeks and even months how could I ease my nerves? I'm purposely driving from Ohio for this as thousands of others who live down there are fleeing. I also wasn't sure what I might see. In my 6 years of storm chasing I am grateful to have never come up on fatalities and I wanted that streak to continue. Not knowing the outcome of my car or how long i'd be stuck didn't me any favors either. But, as with any chase you need to set emotions aside and focus on the chase. If you don't, that's how errors are made and errors can put your life in danger.

Knowing there wouldn't be any food to buy in Florida Alec and I decided to fuel up on food and fill up our gas cans well before we got to the state. Almost right after leaving the state of South Carolina we found a Walmart and felt this was an appropriate time to get some food, water, and other items we still needed. We already had some food, but just in case of the worst case scenario we decided to get more. Well, that'd prove to be more complicated than initially realized. Even over 350 miles away from where we were going Water was not to be found(as pictured above).

Off to the snack food aisle we go! Wait.....samething. Bread aisle? You bet ya! Samething! This Walmart wasn't even on the coast either. This was one 50 or so miles inland! We did manage to snag a loaf of bread and a couple bags of chips that were left and loaded up on cans of spaghetti O's. Then there was the issue of water. It took four different gas stations to finally find gallons of water and we stocked up plenty and the drive continued to our hotel.

Tensions were high, sleep was deprived, and things got pretty heated when trying to figure out where to ride out the Hurricane. Both locations were just South of Cape Canaveral, Florida. However, one location was at Cocoa Beach, and the other was just Cocoa Florida. Cocoa Beach was on a barrier island and Cocoa was more inland. The biggest debate was how many escape routes did we have and how high would we be able to park our vehicles? All of this happening just minutes before we arrived. This isn't like tornadoes. This is a long lasting even that covers hundreds, even thousands of miles. Its not something you can adjust. You have to pick a spot and wait and hope its safe. I wasn't thrilled at all about the Cocoa Beach area nor was Alec. But, after receiving a phone call from our friend Bart reassuring us that this location was safe and that the police had their HQ setup here it eased the tensions a bit. So, after checking out the first hotel we all got Waffle House to eat and discuss our game plan before we continued further. Businesses were shutting down, and the roads were clearing. Time was running out and after much debate we went to Cocoa Beach to check out at the hotel. Being in a small group during a hurricane makes me feel much better in case anything goes wrong and wanted to make sure we weren't in over our heads. My optimism was high however after getting to the hotel. The place looked like a fortress. Concrete walls, tile roof, about 75 yards between us and the ocean with a wall in front of the hotel it had to get over. We already knew we'd lose windows in the hotel. But, one of the rooms that we got had very, very thick glass. It'd take a very big object to smack that at 100mph to break. This is where we finally decided to setup and had the okay from EMA to park our vehicles in the parking garage down the street. However, the thought of what if we lose the two bridges onto the island was still in the back of my head. There was only one thought though we were strictly focused on at this point though. Sleep. Neither Alec and I slept all night and it was now 1pm.

However, I was presented the opportunity to work with WeatherNation in setting up their live shots for their on air segments and i'm not going to sleep through that. That's my dream job and to live that another day I can find time to sleep later.

Night was about to fall, and Matthew was beginning to make his presence known as Tropical Storm wind gusts become more and more frequent and longer lasting as the outerbands spiraled onshore and it didn't take long after dark for the power flashes to begin illuminating the sky as Matthew approached. There was also a creepy howling noise echoing through the hotel as the winds from Matthew continued to pick up speed.

With Matthew's eye still on course to hit us, we received news that sent my heart into my stomach. Our offer to park our vehicles in the parking garage had been rejected! Our friends already up there had been kicked out with punishment being threatened even with the permission we had. Several other chasers and media tried to talk reason into them and their words were "Even in a life threatening situation you can not park up here. We can not have an interference. Interference from what?!? We are just parking our cars up here! This is the only parking garage around, how are you about to kick us out of it when we aren't causing any problems? These officers were not having it and left us scrambling to find another option. Stephen had found a Holiday Inn with a parking garage and after scoping it out it appeared safe. However, parking was limited. There was maybe 5 spots left and this garage was 3 miles away. So, we'd all have to pile into one vehicle to get back. But, I'd rather do that than risk losing, or severely damaging my car.

Not long after that I was walking back to the hotel room from outside and I randomly stumbled across my friends Reed Timmer and his wife Maria and Connor McCrorery who were also targeting the same area as us. Earlier in the day I also came across my friends Michael Phelps and Don Murray and now had quite the great group together. We all made our way down to the beach to document the incoming surge and to feel the full brunt of the wind as there was nothing blocking it on the beach. Some of the gusts nearly knocked me off my feet and blasted sand on the backs of our legs as we watched multiple more transformers explode on the horizon and more areas go dark.

I love this radar grab provided by Chris Heater as it almost looks like nature is sending a bowling ball our way and we are the pins its waiting to strike. While the winds were rapidly intensifying and were now hurricane force I was battling my lack of sleep which was going on 35 hours now. But, no rest for the wicked!

The more the night progressed on, the more apparent it was becoming that official landfall might not happen. It appeared the Northern turn was underway. But, it was going to be close and if it did make landfall it was going to be where we were or no where. Also, Matthew had now been downgraded to a Category 3 Hurricane and my "life is in danger" knot went away.  Which honestly, I was okay with for it being my first Major Hurricane. This was a nice middleground point and now we could kick back and enjoy the show.

Winds were howling, winds sustained at times of 60mph, the sound of small debris being ripped off buildings, power flashes getting bigger and brighter and more frequent. Matthew was beginning to show his fury. We would experience these conditions for several more hours as the lights in the hotel continued flashing on and off wondering when we'd lose power as sections of Cocoa Beach continued to darken.

Around 5am my lack of sleep finally hit me like a wall. Even me moving around filming, walking around the Hurricane wasn't waking me up and at some point I made my way back to the room to lay down until the eye wall hit. Well, yea. I passed out and thankfully Alec and Stephen found me and woke me up. I feel asleep for a whole 40 minutes. 40 minutes in the last nearly 48 hours. I dragged myself out of bed and slightly delusional I walked down the hallway and out to the balcony to film where I finally came too and woke up after standing for a good 20 minutes. Then, the eye wall was in full affect. The strongest winds were still 10 or so miles offshore and this would be as close as we get to those. But man, did they pack a punch. It was creepy. Every 30 minutes or so you'd hear a loud crash! Then, pop. Pieces of roofs being torn apart. Siding being ripped off, sheet metal being hurdled like projectiles. Then about 10 huge explosions happened and out went the power everywhere around us. Except our hotel!

A huge gust of wind came probably 90+mph and after that happened we kept hearing a strange alarm going off. We'd later find out at this moment the roof from the nearby grocery store had been torn off and this was the security alarm going off.

Realize that the eye was indeed going to stay offshore we made a last ditch effort to get as close to the eye wall as possible. We jumped into Bart's rental and booked it North to Cape Canaveral and were blasted with winds over 100mph, ocean spray, and debris laying all over the road.We also came across a heavily damaged trailer park with roofs ripped off and trees collapsed onto other homes. Thankfully, it didn't appear anybody was home and they had evacuated.

After we returned as the sun rose, the shed that had been outside our balcony all night had been blown apart, tossed up into the air and into the field. We also had realized that the loud noises we were hearing throughout the night were pieces of our hotel roof coming off and breaking against the blacktop parking lot. Many businesses had roof damage if not had lost their roof completely, signs bent down or completely blown apart, trees down everywhere. It was crazy how dramatic the wind was on the other side of the eye and now that they were blowing a different direction, places that hadn't been damaged before were being damaged now. But, overall that 10 miles made all of the difference in the world and Florida was spared a catastrophe. To make it even better, we weren't trapped and we were able to get out of there that next evening. Not before passing the heck out for a few hours of much needed sleep.


Conclusion: While some could argue that Matthew was all hype, I'd argue that it was well warranted. What are people supposed to do when all major forecasting models show a major hurricane making landfall? Had this of happened like forecast and it had been underplayed there's no telling what the death toll would have been. Second, always be over prepared rather than under prepared. We had enough food to last us for 5 days. Which might have been excessive to most, but I didn't want to take any chances. I'm glad my worst fears weren't realized and I'm very glad we took this hurricane as seriously as we did and used a group to make a final decision and stick together.


Monday, October 10, 2016

Birthday! Category 1 Hurricane Hermine - Alligator Point, Florida - 9/1/2016

It is once again the peak of hurricane season and for the first time in years the potential exists for a tropical system to make landfall in the USA. However, like any tropical system there were many questions still to be asked. How strong will it be? Where will it hit? Will it hit at all? Will wind shear and dry air kill the system all together?

All reasonable questions to be asked. Early indications on global models that now tropical wave 99L would eventually evolve into a powerful hurricane and turn out to sea posing little, to no threat to the United States. However, over time as the tropical wave eventually became a Tropical Depression models were now indicating a much more alarming picture. Run, after run began to have a more westerly trend. Taking the now Tropical Depression South of the Florida Keys and into the Gulf of Mexico as what would be Tropical Storm Hermine. Where waters were the warmest they have been since 2005 and exploded it into a major hurricane making landfall anywhere from the Florida Panhandle to Texas. Just a wee bit of uncertainty in regards to track eh?

In the 6 years I have been chasing storms I've seen just about it all. Epic tornadoes, insane blizzards, and historic flooding. But, one thing has always avoided me. A hurricane. So, you can imagine I was getting those prechase jitters and that butterfly feeling in my stomach even when it was still just a struggling tropical wave.

It didn't take long for models to quickly give the middle finger to the major hurricane impacting the US idea and actually start trending in a negative direction. Positive for home owners though. The American (or GFS) computer model which just days before showed a strong hurricane impacting Florida now only had a Tropical Storm at best heading into the area. While the Euro model painted a much more bullish scenario. Sending a strong hurricane into the New Orleans area (as pictured above) before making a second landfall along the Alabama coastline.

The reasoning for the sudden flip flop in intensity was the Tropical Wave was entering a very hostile environment for Tropical Development. Strong wind shear and dry air took its toll on 99L for days making it probably the most talked about Tropical wave ever. My hopes of a hurricane chase were quickly fading away and I had almost written it completely off. However......

The Euro, WRF, and GFDL computer models all insisted on further development as now Tropical Depression 99L made its way South of Florida and into the gulf. Causing a forecasting headache for many. Especially chasers like myself who needed to make a plan soon to chase. Another couple of days went by and the Euro. Well, appeared to be caving into the GFS solution. Bringing what was barely a Tropical Storm into the Florida Panhandle along with the GFDL. The only model standing with stronger development was the always bullish WRF. So, you could imagine this was a bit hard to believe from a forecasting aspect due to its track record of always overdoing hurricanes and seeming to turn every tropical wave into a major hurricane.

Despite models consistently talking down on little ole 99L it was somehow holding on for dear life as it entered the Gulf passing South of the Florida Keys. At times, the center being completely exposed to the wind shear and dry air its a miracle it had even gotten this far. A couple more days pass and 99L had finally hit a pocket of lighter wind shear and just like that, Tropical Storm Hermine was born as it slowly begins to drift North. Intensity models still even this close to landfall don't have a clue as to what will happen. Anywhere from a Tropical Storm to a Category 5 hurricane was being played out. I had just made a post the night before how I was getting eager to take an adventure soon and the night before landfall hurricane warnings were issued for Florida. Just as I basically committed to not going due to continued wind shear and more dry air. I specially remember messaging the group chat we have with my chase partners saying "Damnit! Hurricane warnings out. I'm going." I threw all of my junk in the car and about 30 minutes later I was on the road. I said I wanted an adventure after all didn't I? Just like that, the chase was on. But a very, very long drive was ahead of me since I did not commit the night before. It was pretty comical when my buddy Don Murray messaged me a picture of the Hurricane Warnings for Florida and asked when I left. My response was simply "Do you really want the answer to that?" (as I enter I-70 still in Ohio). Mixed feelings were going through my head as I head to Florida alone. My chase partners opted to stay home and with good reason. There was no guarantee this would even become a hurricane. But, after years of waiting I was sick of waiting around for my first hurricane. Also, what better of a potential hurricane to be my first than a lower end one?

With the adrenaline pumping, and my excitement level through the roof. It was not a problem staying awake for this all night drive and really didn't hit me until the sun came up to even start getting tired. After all, due to my late departure I wouldn't have time to sleep anyway. I finally made it to Alabama and with me starting to doze off at the wheel I had no choice but to pull over just South of Birmingham and take a power nap. My life is more important than any weather event. Period. After a 15 minute power nap I was ready to go again and eventually arrived in Florida later that morning.

There were even a few people wondering how the heck I got to Florida so quickly. Simple reply was "The chaser grind". I had left in such a hurry I was very unprepared. I didn't have spare food, nor had I eaten all night on my drive to Florida. Everywhere near me was closed (with good reason) but with what felt like a starving belly, I finally found a Burger King that was open and mowed down a large meal before the madness unfolded. There was even a gas station open where I was able to pick up some water, snacks, and fuel. But man, was I feeling the tiredness when I arrived to Alligator Point when the first outerbands started to hit me. I ran into a lot of chaser friends at this location as well including Brett Adair, Ryan Cartee, Stephen Johnson, Don Murray, and Michael Phelps along with a few other chasers and it didn't take long for me to wake back up. This eased my thoughts a bit as more experienced people were around me for this event. The crappy thing about this area of Florida is its very unpopulated and parking garages to hide in are nearly non existent. We were on an island after all about to ride out a Tropical Storm.

First thing that jumped out at me was the crazy waves coming off of the Gulf already and after shooting some B-Roll and chit chatting with Brett I logged onto Facebook to see that Hermine was now officially a Category 1 hurricane! Finally! It was time to bag my first official hurricane. Several intense bands hit my location producing winds of 40mph gusting to 50mph as storm surge began to overtake parts of the island I was on.

There was even a truck that drove passed me and pulled into a driveway of what I can only assume was his house to collect a few last minute items before leaving. Several hours past by and visible satellite imagery was becoming ominous. There were clear signs that Hermine was now rapidly strengthening with angry convection building around the center. Taking on a classic hurricane as apposed to earlier where it was a disconfigured piece of junk.

Forward speed had seemed to increase and I was beginning to wonder if Hermine was going to make landfall sooner than predicted as it continued to wobble back and forth making it complicated to predict where the eye would pass over. Waves began to increase in size as it continued battering the island and eventually knocking over a section of the flood wall in front of me. Piece by piece it began to fall into the Gulf.

One of the waves that crashed onto the shore was so big it overtook my car just before I got out to take a photo of the collapsed wall.

Another image as waves batter beach side homes.

Shortly after the flood wall I got a call from a number I did not know. Confused, I answered "Hello?" and a man answers "Hey Aaron! Its Jeff Piotrowski. What's it like over there buddy?" I damn near choked on my own spit because I was talking to someone who I have idolized for many years on the phone discussing the chase. We exchanged stories on what it was like at our locations and I alerted Jeff of the recent satellite imagery showing the hurricane rapidly organizing despite the wind shear still in place. The shear now was actually helping to aid in outflow thus, better organizing the hurricane and increasing its strength. We hung up a short time later and kept in touch off and on throughout the event.

With the hurricane only a couple hours away from landfall and daylight beginning to fade and high tide approaching. I repositioned off of the island and found a new location to film the surge and large waves where I would run into Brett and crew once again and even Brandon Clement.

I snagged this video grab off of Brett's video of a huge wave crashing up and overtaking me despite being on a patio well above the ocean filming. Not only were the waves battering us, we also got sand blasted in the face forcing me to shut my eyes and film blind half of the time as our road began to erode away and fall into the ocean.

Just before nightfall an officer pulled off and we exchanged info with each other as far as the weather went and he and every other police officer we saw were super nice about us chasers being there despite mandatory evacuations being underway. Night fell and I was beginning to grow concerned that the hurricanes eye would pass more to my East. So, I crossed the bridge into Panacea, Florida where I filmed some B-Roll of the surge coming up into the parking lots there as well before I continue East. I arrived in Saint Marks only to realize police had blocked all access to the beach and weren't letting anyone in. This is also where I bumped into Gary Schmitt and Logan Poole. Other good friends of mine and at this point I'm getting dead tired from being awake for nearly 35 hours straight. Just as I was about to fall asleep for a nap in the same parking lot as them a hear a BOOM! and see a bright green flash as a transformer explodes. Thanks mother nature. Guess i'm not getting any sleep. The more I sat there the more I wondered if I was too far inland. After all, I wanted to feel the full brunt of this hurricane. Being surrounded by trees would block the most intense winds from hitting me. So, I waved farewell to Gary and Logan and blasted West as fast as I could to where I was previously located as the eye was just offshore now by maybe 30 miles and the eye wall being even closer.

Then, just as I arrived back into Panacea the eye wall hit. I wanted the adrenaline to pump. So, I parked up on the highest point of the bridge to ride it out. 80-90mph sustained winds pummeled my location. Knocking out power and violently shaking my car back and fourth. I've been in these winds before but never for so long.  I barely managed to open my door to get out and winds were so strong they knocked me off my feet. Once getting back up, you could lean into the wind and have it hold you up. Waves crashing along the shoreline, tree branches flying past and pieces of debris zipping by along with multiple tornado warnings. Never felt more like a badass in my life than being in a hurricanes eye wall while under a tornado warning haha. It didn't matter anyway. Because we wouldn't see anything if it did produce.

Then, as if someone had flipped a light switch. Winds suddenly vanished and it was calm. Creepy calm. You couldn't even hear bird chirping it was so calm. It was like a scene out of a horror film right before being attacked as I got out of my car to chat with fellow chasers on the bridge I was on. It didn't take long after landfall for the hurricane to quickly fall apart either. So, it was at this time I decided to call the chase and head to the hotel I was staying at before the second eye wall hit. Or so I thought.

Before I even got close to where the hotel was, the road I had just been on not 30 minutes earlier was now nearly underwater with debris scattered all over both lanes. I could see fellow chasers Brett Adair and Brandon Clements tailights up ahead. Indicating they made it through. So, carefully navigating the half lane left I hoped I wouldn't get a flat tire by running over debris, or that the water wouldn't suddenly drop off flooding my car. Somehow, I made it through though. First obstacle out of the way. Then, out of no where it seemed to start raining birds. Yes, you read that correctly. Hundreds, even thousands of birds got caught in the eye of the storm, and as the eye passed overhead they began falling to the earth. Two of which hit my car. It didn't take long for me to catch up to Clement and Brett. But, they seemed to be stopping to discuss their next move. I only had one thing on my mind. Sleep. I had after all been up for nearly 30 hours straight. So, I decided to push on with the voice in the back of my head hoping this wasn't a mistake as I was using them to guide me from hitting debris or trees (oops).

Continuing on highway 98 using as much caution as possible, I come around a curve at about 25mph when all of a sudden.....A tree is now in my headlights. Slamming on the brakes as hard as I can, gear and cameras flying forward into the floor my tires skid across the wet leaves covering the road and I slam into the tree. Delirious as to what had just happened, because it happened so fast my natural reaction is to throw it in reverse and back up. Even though I was also in a powerline as my car rattles from damage. To make things worse, my phone screen had broke during the hurricane and my ipod had flown forward and it took me several minutes to find it as I panic about my friends leaving who were just a few miles behind me. Finally, after a few minutes tick by I find my ipod and send out a message asking for help and that I had just wrecked. Logan Poole, Gary Schmitt, Brett Adair, Brandon Clement, Brandon Copic and the rest of their crew came to my aid as I limped my car closer towards them.

My only thought, and excuse my language was. "You have got to be shitting me! How the hell am I going to get home?!?!" That was probably still the shock talking as all of my friends made sure I was okay. Thankfully, I didn't hit the tree hard enough to deploy my airbags. At first glance it didn't appear to bad. Besides a busted headlight and hood the car seemed fine. Until we opened the hood. Revealing that I had bent my radiator, bent my fan, and punctured the AC unit. Ugh. So, I had to give the dreaded phone call no storm chasers parents ever want to get and let them know what happened. Being on the road as much as we are, we are more proned to accidents like these. So, its probably a shock it hadn't happen sooner. Trying to explain this to the insurance company was the funniest part. But, i'll leave that out of the chase log.

After about over an hour of being on the phone and getting everything figured out Brandon Copic offered me to stay in his hotel room in Tallahassee, Florida and he'd tow it back to Ohio for me using a UHaul trailer. I was so grateful for this because I had no idea how on earth I'd get it back to Ohio. Trying not to fall asleep at the wheel as my adrenaline wore off we finally found a route to the city that wasn't blocked. We also managed to get the one hotel that hadn't lost power. Originally I needed to go to Walmart and find a new phone, but apparently at some point when we got to the hotel I passed out. Can't say I have ever been so tired to where I pass out mid conversation before. So, its probably a good thing I held off on getting a new phone.

As if I wasn't already down, someone kicked me in the teeth at somepoint that night or yesterday afternoon. Because when I grabbed my wallet I realized all of the cash (about 150 bucks) had been stolen. No where to be found in my car or any of our bags. Good thing I have a Credit Card I guess? Could this trip get any worse? Yeah.....

About 15 minutes into the drive (not even out of the city limits yet) Copic's check engine light comes on and smoke starts pouring out of the back. After pulling over we realized the truck had gotten on fire. Yeah, you read that right. Caught on fire. After putting it out we all sit in disbelief with the luck we were having this trip. Thankfully Brandon Clement was nearby and took Copic to the same UHaul place to rent a truck as we waited for AAA to tow Brandon Copic's truck. Although, no matter how bad life kicks you down. There is always light in every situation. That light just so happen to be a few neighbors that had seen our fire and came over to ask if we were okay. I even remember the older man after I finally asked their names after talking for over an hour going "Names Mud". My response was "Its a helluva thing aint it? Its a helluva thing". There is a movie named Mud where he quoted that from and its one of my favorite movies. We both busted out laughing as if I was talking to someone I had known for years. The other woman across the street even brought us ice cold beers and water as we sat, roasting in the heat and humidity. With all of the crap going on in today's world with mass shootings, corrupt politics, its so amazing to see people like this to remind you there are still good, genuine people out there. You can really get to know a lot about someone by just sitting down and listening. "Mud" went on about his younger days about a truck driver and he had just about seen and heard it all. But, said this was a first for him running into a bunch of storm chasers. I was actually quite sad to part ways from these fine folks as we began our long drive home. But the memories will last forever. But, this trip wasn't letting us go home that...."easily". We noticed early on that the back left tire on the UHaul was bald. But figured we could make it back. The other person on the other hand probably not. Well....yeah...about that. Arriving in Knoxville TN we hear a loud "BAM!" my heart sunk because all I could think was that my car had fallen off. But, to my relief as we pulled over found it was still there. But, realized the bald tire we were worried about had blown. So, after limping it to a gas station where a domestic despute broke out and police swarming the area I walked over to Taco Bell and came up short on ordering food in the drive thru without a car. Thankfully though AAA arrived quickly and had a new tire on the truck in no time and we would finally make it home that morning.

Conclusion: Finally got my first hurricane! One of the only meteorological events I had been lacking in my career. But, my God. This would be one of the most frustrating, but fun and memorable trips I had ever been on. Even among what had happened, this reminds me exactly of why I love doing what I do. Living life, and becoming a story teller. It was a nice surprise that this hurricane in the end actually ended up over performing rather than underperforming like most.