Richard Horodner-Pioneer Hurricane Chaser & Business
TV Script proposal - Horodner's Chasing Career
Narrative of possible themes for Richard Horodner’s History of Hurricane Chasing, his passion for, and development of a business there-of.
The following script / outline proposal does not emphasize the typical thrill-seeking approach to Hurricane-Chasing.
If you look at the TV appearances page on my website, almost every one has the same order of mini-themes run together. Almost every time over the years a production company has come over to do a piece about my work, I can predict what type of shots they will do and in what order: like field producers who are given an assignment and come up with the same ideas about a subject they previously knew nothing about. Scratching the same surface, over and over again. Only natural. The I-Witness-Video piece does have a more single mission oriented theme than all the others, though.
This same angle has been used over and over; and my purpose in proposing the History of Hurricane Chasing (and or Science of) is to offer a unique and educational approach; and giving some purpose to how and why this (storm-chasing in general) all started--emphasizing the pioneers of this "discipline." and why they (or I) do it. I don't want to re-do the copy-cat chasers whose sole purpose is to attract attention as just another type of thrill seeker.
Growing up hurricane-inspired
I will quickly try to note some ideas below, upon which to build a unique "hurricane-chaser" theme. Weaving in the history and science of, and the adventure of, could be sub-themes running throughout, but my unique drive for chasing and filming hurricanes will be the central theme.
My first curiosity of the power of intense wind came when I was 5 years old, listening to the fairy tale TheThree Little Pigs. The 1st little pig built a house of straw; then along came the wolf. "I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house down." "Not by the hair of my chinny chinny chin," boasted the little pig. Then the wolf blew the house down.
The 2nd little pig built a house of wood, the wolf huffed and puffed, and blew that house down.
The 3rd little pig built his house with bricks, the wolf huffed and puffed, and huffed and puffed, but he could not blow down the house of bricks.
My young mind became curious how air, which I did not understand had mass, had the force to destroy all but the most sturdily built of homes; plus my early yearnings to witness that power of wind were born.
Like many people, when young, I was fascinated with the thunderstorms and occasional hurricanes threatening my hometown, Miami. When other kids were doing homework, or talking on the phone, I could often be found out front of my house, or peering for hours through the plate glass window at the frequent lightning displays that lit up the evening skies--mostly west across the Everglades. I can recall on some occasions, just after dark, a slew of neighbors in lawn-chairs, sitting on the sidewalk, facing west for a couple of hours, being awed by the multiple streaks of cloud to cloud anvil lightning streaking across the sky.
When the first hurricane of my life (not counting the slew of hurricanes that hit Miami when I was an infant in the late 1940s) approached and came through S. Florida, my book-learned fascination with the subject made a direct and vivid connection with the thrilling phenomena of the actual hurricane event. I was 13-years-old, 1960, 150 mph giant Hurricane Donna was headed toward S. Florida. The hurricane had already taken 60 lives when a plane near the Cape Verde Islands crashed into the ocean when it got caught in the squalls (there were no satellite pictures back then, so the existence of the hurricane was not known until the plane crashed into it.).
The six-hourly advisory was due out at 11 am; and it was this coming
advisory that would likely include initial hurricane warnings for some portion of the Florida Keys and/or S. Florida. It was Sunday, and my sister had driven us to Burger King to pick up lunch for the family. 11 o'clock arrived and I went to a public telephone booth to call home to ask Mom what the new advisory had stated on TV.
When I picked up the headset in the phone booth, strangely, the TV station audio signal was being picked up by the metal shell of the booth: "A hurricane warning is now being issued for all of S. Florida. Residents are urged to rush to completion all necessary protection for their homes as extremely dangerous Hurricane Donna will be engulfing the area within 36 hrs. All residents of the Florida Keys, and in coastal zones of S. Florida should quickly make plans to evacuate the areas tomorrow. Winds in excess of 150 mph can be expected ---------"
The eerie-ness of "me" getting this random transmission ran a chill up my spine; and was likely the initiation of my calling to devote my life to hurricanes in some manner.
Everyone's normal routines in all of S. Florida drastically changed for the next week. The preparations for, the experience of the blast, the common boat everyone was in during the recovery period (weeks) was traumatic and exiting to me.
Education in Hurricane Forecasting and Emergency-Preparedness
An optimal goal of many folks is to find a profession where they can make a life's living, while at the same time doing something they also enjoy greatly, and ,optimally, also help society at the same time (doctor, lawyer, researcher, fireman, baseball player, etc.).
While a senior in high school, 4 years later, I participated in the Lab-Research program where 2 students from each school, instead of having a sixth period class, traveled to a research facility in Miami (6 hrs per week), to "intern" with local researchers. Until me, all the assignments were at medical and biological type facilities; but I became the first to be assigned to the National Hurricane Center (NHC). I worked with the most noted researcher in the field, Banner Miller, for that year, and actually had published a research paper in the National Weather Review.
That very fall, another major hurricane, Cleo, came directly over Miami, and that experience enhanced my enthusiasm for the hurricane experience itself, again.
I did start to realize then, that if I went into the hurricane forecasting field, I would not be able to actually experience hurricanes as they made landfall during my coming years in such a profession: as when a hurricane is striking, my duties would be most critical at the NHC office itself. Still, I chose to attend the best Tropical Meteorology college in the country, Florida State U, and started out as a meteorology major.
The Chasing Begins
My first week in college, 1965, in Tallahassee--500 miles from my hometown, Miami, intense Hurricane Betsy, passed over S. Florida. The thought of going back to Miami to experience Betsy didn't appear a possibility; as being in my first week of college I thought missing a few days of classes was not an option. I realized later that missing a few days of classes was not such a serious thing; and could be made up with some longer studying hours down the road.
Two days later, Hurricane Betsy approached New Orleans, 500 miles west of Tallahassee. My roommate, Terry Nixon, came in and exclaimed, "I am going with seniors Joe Golden and Dave Woodley and a few others to chase Betsy to New Orleans." Wow! This was one of the first hurricane chasing missions anyone had ever gone on; there was no history (save a couple of individual occurrences--which I can detail) of a combined mission of people to intercept a hurricane coming ashore. Certainly a quite unique idea.
Terry's group took off in an old car of one of the older students and headed west on two-lane Highway 90 along the Gulf Coast; there were no interstate highways back then. The large hurricane was sending gale force squalls and hurricane gusts (75+mph) and blinding rain across the coast once they got to lower Mississippi. Suddenly a large pine was toppled across the highway. One of the students was in a panic in the back seat, whimpering, calling for Mommy. The only way to continue onward would be to travel inland over 60 miles and head back west, then drop back to the coast. Timing of landfall of Betsy and the extra time to get there made that impossible.
Betsy struck New Orleans later that day and sent 8 ft. of flood waters throughout the city; many died. During the next forty years many urged that the levees be fortified and heightened to prevent another such occurrence. Politics and budgets kept that from happening. Hurricane Katrina finally struck in 2005, and more than 1000 people perished-- mostly due to the lack of necessary actions to protect the city. Large sections of New Orleans remain in ruins today.
The next year, 1966, Super Hurricane Inez struck Haiti and headed towards S. Florida. Terry and myself flew to Miami to intercept. The hurricane stalled offshore for two days, then finally came in a weakened state; so we experienced a minimal hurricane there.
For the next twenty years Terry, myself, and then Jim Leonard, beginning in 1972, chased and intercepted almost every hurricane to strike the USA--mostly for the fascination of the chase, the experience of the hurricanes’ power.
Making Hurricane-Chasing a Profession
All the while I tried to come up with an idea on how to make a profession out of these missions. The NHC, knowing I intercepted hurricanes, requested I provide them barometric pressure readings, wind readings and estimates, and photos of what occurred at ground zero during each hurricane landfall. Previous to my observing such, they rarely got readings and trained observations from ground zero, as official weather stations are situated 50-100 miles apart along the coast, and the small hurricane core rarely passed over those stations. With these more accurate readings and observations they could more accurately determine how much wind and surge it actually took to cause the damage that occurred during each event. (Starting this century, several research groups started placing temporary wind towers in advance of each hurricane to get similar readings).
I have some interesting stories to tell obtained during some of those earlier chases (1965-1983); but actual footage to go with those stories would have to be "cheated" with other generic b-roll obtained in later years.
One such story (or non-story) occurred in 1969, my senior year in college @ Tallahassee, Florida. My coming wedding, set for August 17th. was approaching; and by coincidence category #5 Hurricane Camille was also approaching the North Gulf Coast. At first it appeared it would hit just south of Tallahassee; but on the 16th. it seemed likely to strike the Mississippi coast. I had a choice: head south to Miami where my soon to be wife and the wedding with 100 guests was planned, or drive west to Mississippi to intercept the monstrous storm. I chose to honor the wedding plans and married just as Camille was coming ashore the night of the 17th.
Maybe I made the wrong choice; as that marraige, for me at least, turned out to be a bigger disaster than Hurricane Camille.
Speaking of the NHC----my enthusiasm for the subject, and knowledge of hurricane forecasting:
For 40 yrs. I did the following: As noted above I participated in a work-study program at the NHC in 1964, and had the honor of working with noted hurricane researcher Banner I. Miller. After that date, for 40 years, I had the privilege of stopping by the NHC for several hours almost every day a tropical system was in progress. I would attend the daily map discussions, and also sit in the hurricane forecast room with the forecaster(s) on duty. There I observed and discussed the current situations with the most knowledgeable hurricane practitioners on earth; as they devised their forecasts and warnings.
What I learned could not be obtained from the few textbooks available on tropical meteorology. I learned how they used their guidance and various level maps and forecasts, their personal experience applying past circumstances to the current situation, and their intuition about what would happen next. I observed the intricacies of balancing the uncertainties of each situation with the hoped for public reactions to their pronouncements; the major goal to save as many lives and mitigate hurricane damage as best as could be accomplished.
For a TV production this segment could be shot at the NHC; showing me coming in daily, being greeted by the forecaster on duty, and sitting in the room with him as he prepares his forecasts, looks at the satellite pictures, data, etc. We could talk about the weekend Dolphin football game for a few seconds; then he could describe his scientific thinking behind his next forecast of where the current hurricane will go, and how much stronger it should get.
A side story to this that shows my dedication and obsession with hurricanes at the NHC: Most of the employees there basically could care less if I (a non-employee) wandered around the office, peering over shoulders for an hour or so a day. A few were real hurricane fanciers such as I (most hurricane forecasters are not fanciers; they are scientists who make forecasts to save lives and take home a pay check.), found it refreshing to be able to express to someone else their enthusiasm for hurricanes and their experiences thereof. When I came they could go on and on about their own experiences; wherein with most of their fellow employees they could only discuss the dry technical stuff.
These guys often noted that I had become a sort of "folk-hero" to them as each time a hurricane hit in an area far away from the NHC, they envied the fact that I could go out and experience the very "beast" that got them interested in hurricane forecasting in the first place. Being an important cog in the forecasting arena, they could never go out and experience another hurricane again.
The NHC. Directors always have scheduled a special screening of my latest video documentation of the latest hurricane landfall--about a week after it occurred; and the attendance was always full-house.
Then there was one new employee for several years that resented my presence in their "office". She would write formal complaints to the NOAA headquarters that a non-employee was hanging around. I always felt the bad vibes when I entered the large office; and would stay away form her work area--but she could always see me in the large central room. IE - I had to overlook hostility and "tolerate" such, as my enthusiasm would not be dampened (much), even though I was not-wanted (by her) in the one place where the best knowledge could be gained. She even called a meeting with all employees for the purpose of denying me access; as no-one else came in and wandered around "her" office. Many of the employees knew me for 20-30 years, and she was basically asked to "tolerate" my presence despite some vague NOAA rule that does not allow non-employees such wide access to the facilities. This NOAA employee was not a hurricane forecaster; she worked in the marine forecast area of the Weather Service in the same headquarters.
(It should be noted in any production that the "open-door" policy at the NHC ended in late 2001, as the need for security at government facilities increased greatly after the terrorist attacks on 911 in NYC and DC. No longer can interested citizens / non-employees just "hang around" the NHC or other federal offices, as I did at the NHC for so many decades.)
In 1982, The Weather Channel came into existence. I procured a position on their staff, based on my many years of intercepting landfalling hurricanes, knowledge gained at the NHC, and great enthusiasm for the subject matter. I began as a technician and entry level forecaster (analyzing weather maps), and became liaison to the on-camera guys of current severe weather as it came in on the weather wire. More importantly, for me at least, TWC twice per hour, ran a feature/interview promoting me as their in-house hurricane chaser and videographer. This spot ran for nearly two years; even though I left the inside job in less than a year. The corporate work arena did not agree with me.
I have, since 1983, continued to provide TWC with timely news-footage of hurricanes shortly after many new hurricanes came ashore.
In 1983 the first consumer video cameras ever became available to the public. Previous to that video cameras cost a minimum $40,000. Now one was available for $800.00.
Late in 1985, the Army Corps of Engineers contacted, then contracted me, to film the tidal surge of each land-falling hurricane. Previous to that, days after a hurricane struck, they would send in crews to estimate how high the hurricane surge was in the areas of destruction. With these estimates they could make more accurate their forecast programs for how high the surge would get in each specific area, during each intensity of hurricane in the future. But these estimates had a margin for error; so the input to the programs was also non-precise.
They contracted me to film the surge as it occurred, and this would take out the estimate in how high the surge actually got. With this valuable data, the surge forecast programs would become more accurate---and the hurricane forecasting evacuation areas could become more precise.
Also, these more accurate programs were important input on coastal planning, beach restoration project planning, inlet dredging necessities, and jetty construction. My more accurate data was helpful in the formulation of these plans (I'm not saying it was critical, of course, but it was worth a few thousand dollars per hurricane they paid me, to have this more accurate data available). This work further validated to me that I was developing a business I could make a living at, enjoy my passion doing it, and serve man.
With my new camera, I called all the TV Network Regional Bureau Chiefs to convince one that I could enhance their coverage of each new hurricane. Each network generally sent 2 or 3 crews to try and intercept each hurricane; but almost never was any crew in the exact area of maximum wind, surge, and destruction. My history of being in the right place at the right time convinced the CBS Bureau chief to put me on as a Stringer photographer during hurricane events; something they had never done before with hurricanes.
Hurricane Diana came along in Sept. 1984. It first appeared that it would hit Melbourne, Fl as a tropical storm; so in my shorts and t-shirt and my dog Hurricane and some drinks in a cooler, and my camera, I left for there expecting to be home the next day. Diana drifted north instead and I followed it up the coast for four days, sleeping in the car with no fresh clothes, as Diana increased to a Major Hurricane (135 mph) off the NC Coast.
Finally, she looped and came ashore near Holden Beach, NC. I drove through whole gales, blinding rain with hurricane gusts, and came to a bridge to the barrier island. A police car was parked, people-less, in the middle of the skinny two lane bridge, blocking access to the barrier island. I was so intent on getting on the island I took the chance to squeeze my car between the cruiser and brick bridge embankment, expecting to possibly scratch the cruiser. I slipped through by about ½ inch and observed the hurricane crashing ashore. The island was evacuated, and I parked under a stilt-house car port to film the hurricane.
Shortly after the worst I started to drive around to shoot the damage and flooding; as 19 inches of rain had fallen in a mere 4 hours. A while later a police car was also surveying damage, and I thought my goose was cooked for being in a mandatory evacuation zone. It so happens their car was stuck in the flood, and they needed a ride off the island to get a backup vehicle. As a trade for not arresting me, I took them off the island. They did request a copy of my video.
I drove back to Wilmington, NC, where the CBS Bureau chief in Atlanta told me to go transfer the footage. Many local and Network crews were there feeding their footage back to NYC for the evening news. Several made fun of my "little camera"; as many had never seen a consumer video camera before.
They talked amongst each other of their "valiant" capturing of Diana on film--but were not in the area of maximum effects as I was. The producers finally viewed my footage, after I had to drop names of their bosses several times to even preview my little-camera's footage. “It’s not what you’ve got, but how you use it.” When the lead story was produced for the evening news, my footage led off the network broadcast. I had a feeling of accomplishment having, on my first try, my footage "beat out" the supposed professionals.
During the years up until 1985 I made a living at various jobs: Science Teacher, Financial Management Counselor, US Mailman, Taxi Driver, Income Tax Consultant, Over the Road Trucker, and other jobs. I lost two jobs due to my hurricane chasing obsession.
I was driving a tractor trailer out of Florida and had just made a delivery in Detroit. A hurricane was about to make landfall in Florida, so I parked the truck and flew to Florida to experience the hurricane. I told my dispatcher I was sick and couldn't drive. Another company driver spotted my parked truck, turned me in, and I got fired.
I took leave without notice from a job I had as a clerk in a jewelry store in Atlanta; and got fired for that chase of Hurricane Bob in 1985.-
1985 brought many hurricanes to the USA. I intercepted the eyes of four hurricanes (Danny, Elena, Gloria, Kate) that year, a world's record for one person for most eye interceptions in a year--still a standing record today.
Hurricane Elena, Labor Day landfall, brought my most grueling chase, most successful video mission, footage that I have sold segments of over a hundred times for TV documentaries about hurricanes. My sequence of a house being destroyed by surge and pounding waves is still considered one of, if not the best, sequence of this type of occurrence. My drive over the crumbling causeway to the barrier St. George Island, is looked at as probably the most "death-defying" hurricane chaser mission on film. Below is URL to some footage of Elena.
As with this footage, our History of Hurricane Chasing production will include much live-action footage of this nature incorporated into the story line. These sequences will repeatedly display the exciting-adventure sub-theme into the show; and display it graphically.
Elena of 1985 was a five day chase: exhausting, successful, exciting, landmark footage for TV coverage, competition destroying, with several good anecdotal stories.
I drove 15 hrs to beat the hurricane to Pensacola, FL, from Miami, 700 miles away. The eye then stalled offshore, but sent humongous 15+ foot waves and flooding over the fishing pier and into the barrier island. The hurricane drifted eastward towards the "hairy-armpit" of Florida near Cedar Key and an 8-ft surge was predicted to inundate coastal towns.
I parked at the city hall / fire house / tag office / etc.--in the small town of Inglis, situated along a river several miles from the Gulf of Mexico. It was 10 pm., Elena was sending several feet of water flowing across the causeway road to the coast itself; winds were gusting to 60 mph, and occasional blasts of blinding horizontal rain blasted through. I was standing against the lee side of the building with several other locals; and struck up a conversation with one, who happened to be the mayor of Inglis.
Knowing the predicted tidal surge for that town was 8 ft. above sea level I asked what the town's elevation was. She replied "4 ft above sea level." I one time noted to her that the NHC was predicting 8 ft. of ocean to come ashore with waves superimposed on top of that." She didn't seem phased. Luckily the hurricane soon turned away, and headed back to the northen Gulf coast. That whole town was not evacuated, and only luck stopped a possible deadly mass-drowning disaster.
The Mayor noted to me that she had seen another of "my ilk" sitting on top of the high-bridge on US 19 just east of town, in a P/U truck with an anemometer mounted on top. Only 3 long-time chasers were in existence at that point in time, and I immediately knew it was Terry Nixon. I met him on top of the bridge, and we chased in tandem for the next two days.
The CBS assignment desk told me they had four of their crews after Elena as well. When Elena abruptly looped and headed back WNW briskly, I sped back towards the Florida Panhandle, 300 miles away. This was the third day with only a couple of hours sleep in the cramped car--and of course, accompanied by my trusty half-Saint Barnard dog, Hurricane. Approaching Appalachicola I called CBS and was told, "Richard, you have left our other crews in the dust, exhausted, so do your best to get us some good footage."
I got over to the barrier island and filmed the enclosed footage of Elena www.youtube.com/watch?v=CbGu23XW_Uk, which includes the crazy drive over the collapsing bridges, and the rare footage of a tidal surge on a barrier island.
The CBS contact asked if I could go back to their affiliate 30 miles north of Tallahassee.; even as the eye was still offshore and headed quickly towards the Miss. Coast. Through the tropical storm conditions Terry and I went back to the station to feed the footage to the network. At the station were several of their crews transferring their footage of minimum storm conditions to the network.
Again the union cameramen and field-producers did not even want to look at my Little-Camera footage; but after I contacted the Bureau Chief he got them to view my stuff. Four hours later they finally did, and, of course, my footage led off the CBS Morning and then the Evening News again.
With no sleep I left Tallahassee north, and headed towards Mississippi, calculating I had to average 70 mph for 6 hours to intercept the wall cloud and eye as it came ashore. I managed a total of 10 minutes sleep, slumped over the steering wheel, and drove into Biloxi smack dab in the middle of the wall-cloud and 115 mph gusts just after dawn.
I filmed this landfall in Biloxi, then the eye came over and I drove inside the clear, majestic eye 8 miles west to Gulfport, where the second half came ashore with 120 mph gusts; blowing roofs off in front of my camera lens.
Four days with a total of maybe 7 hours sleep; but the adrenalin of the power of the hurricane coming ashore slapped me awake, and I enjoyed and filmed this final landfall; capturing landmark footage of tidal surge to be later used by Emergency Managers, FEMA, and the NHC to help educate the public, graphically, on the dangers hurricanes present.
I realize, today, after Katrina, this danger is common knowledge; but back then video of tidal surge actually doing damage was almost non-existent; and it served to save lives--according to Emergency Managers who used such in their team training and public presentations.
Later that year I intercepted Hurricane Gloria on Nag's Head, NC. Terry and I, in separate vehicles, made it to the roadblock to the final long bridge to the Outer Banks. We described our mission and the police officers radioed ahead for other officers to help us travel out to a good vantage perch if they saw us.
We were warned that the ocean might be coming over parts of the bridge already, in this pitch of night. And it was. For several stretches of this low several mile bridge, hurricane gust winds were sending huge wave spray over the tops of our vehicles; and the side-swiping gusts several times almost sent us into Albermarle Sound, below.
My driver's side window got smashed out by flying debris as we parked near the Holiday Out Hotel on the Beaches at the southern end of Nag's Head, on Cape Hatteras. I looked around for a safe haven, but the hotel was pitch black and evacuated, and the large glass doors to the lobby were locked. Being exposed to hurricane condidtions I seriously considered smashing them in with a brick, thinking that later anyone would just feel flying debris caused the damage. Luckily a hurricane gust just plain blew the doors open, inward, before I found a brick.
When pulling Hurricane Dog on her leash towards the door with me, a strong hurricane gust lifted her off the ground, and I had a dog/ kite on a leash, flying downwind, until I could yank her to the ground and pull her with me into the lobby. Doggone/ almost.
Later that year I intercepted the eye of Hurricane Kate; back in NW Florida again. I filmed the eye of the hurricane as the sun set in the eye itself. More rare, spectacular footage.
Terry and I took different positions during this landfall. He decided to stay on the NE quadrant to measure the likely highest gusts. I went west to Mexico Beach to experience the eye itself. I could not contact Terry for over two days afterwards. Turns out, as he attempted to leave the immediate coastal area of Cape San Blas State Forest, the highway got undercut by flowing surge water, and the roadbed dropped out beneath the weight of his truck..
Water quickly filled up the cab, and he escaped to spend the whole pitch black night, outside, in the bed of his truck (still above water) in hurricane winds and torrential rain much of the time. He was rescued later the next day when road clearing crews made it into the area. He said the howling wolves, and howling hurricane Kate’s winds, and pounding tropical rains, kept him quite "alert" the whole night. Picture of his truck in the collapsed highway is here:
Having marketed my first Hurricane Documentary Videocassette, "Hurricane Diana, Live", the previous year, solely by newspaper ads and a direct mail campaign; I realized the relatively successful business venture could be expanded with the excellent footage I captured during Elena.
I traveled back to the Mississippi coast and just walked into the local newspaper office and presented my chasing story and history and footage. They were greatly impressed, had never heard of a hurricane-chaser before, and the large headline of the front page had my picture and headline--"Florida Man Makes Living Chasing Hurricanes."
The area, being severely damaged and the hurricane affecting most everyone' s lives for months to come; was very interested in the live action footage I captured of the historical event they just personally experienced themselves. The local news crews were hiding during the worst of the storm, and the network crews were either left behind by me, or too exhausted to work anymore--so my footage was the only source for the locals to actually see the hurricane taking place along the coast. The coastal areas themselves were evacuated before Elena came ashore.
I then went to the local TV station, and they were interested enough to schedule a long interview with me for the evening news, teasing the viewers with my best footage. With that publicity, I went store to store, shopping center to shopping center, and convinced store owners to carry my documentary/souvenir videocassette tape. Most were skeptical that people would buy such a new and unique item (VHS players were quite new at that time) and I placed many of the first batches of the tape in the stores on consignment.
Quickly selling the first batches, thousands of tapes got sold in a few weeks, and my new business venture was now off its feet. One store in a shopping center displayed the video on a monitor facing towards the shopping center hallway. I observed a crowd almost always standing out front gasping at the video (again, true maximum hurricane conditions and tidal surge taking place on film were extremely rare in 1985.) The reactions of the viewing crowd were wide and varied:
"Boy, whoever took that footage has got to have a loose screw, being out in the hurricane like that."
“ I never realized the conditions were so extreme along the coastline; I wisely evacuated as warned and conditions inland did not compare.”
“That guy has got to be the bravest person I have ever seen.” (was a common comment from military personnel based in Biloxi watching the tape).
“Why do I want to see this again; the hurricane scared the hell out of me once already.”
“That has got to be some of the most spectacular footage I have ever seen.”
I realized, through all the sales on basically a limited sales campaign, that this market and business could be a successful venture for many years and hurricanes to come.
1989, Hurricane Hugo was another eventful chase. As category #4 Hugo slowly headed towards a possible hit on Puerto Rico, we flew there about 36 hrs. before the expected landfall. All the other storms had been curving offshore that year due to the persistent steering currents, and this seemed our only chance to see one this season (it was Sept 18th already.). As we approached the island a violent outer band of Hugo, filled with lightning, engulfed our commercial flight. For over an hour we circled the airport, unable to land, lightning lighting up the otherwise dark cabin almost every second. Updrafts from the thunderstorms rocked the plane constantly as we dropped and rose what seemed like 1000 ft. at a time. Passengers were screaming in freight. A stewardess, during a quick downdraft, rose to the ceiling, then came tumbling down into a passenger’s lap as the plane leveled off.
As the hurricane came ashore, Terry and I stood up against the wall of the Sands Hotel on the beaches of Isle Verde, Puerto Rico. 125 mph gusts were thrashing the palms, the sound of breaking glass permeated the air, sections of roofs and other debris were flying by left to right. We looked into the lobby and the manager and assistant manager waved at us from inside; having spoken with us earlier, and knowing our mission to document the storm.
The howling hurricane winds were now swirling and sending debris flying by, too close for comfort. We went through the lobby doors, and viewed, across the lobby facing south towards the ocean, huge plate glass windows , covered by sheets of plywood. As we stood in the lobby the first plywood board tore loose and headed skyward--then the next, and then the next sheet of wood.
The large windows were now bare. Smash!! Debris shattered one huge pane, 30 ft away and a sheet of flying shards flew our way at nearly 100 mph; the full-force of the hurricane coming into the lobby. Terry and I each dived behind brick “Roman Columns” that decorated the huge, ornate lobby.
For the next half hour, the wind would drop back to 65-70 mph for a few seconds, quickly gust back above 100 mph. Flying glass was going by frequently, getting embedded into the walls behind us. The entire lobby floor was glass shard-covered, and each time the winds gusted upward, the chiming sound of thousands of glass pieces would lift up and fly by us; still hiding behind columns, like a field of shrapnel. Finally, when the winds dropped off for 20-30 seconds we each ran the gauntlet into the more protected casino area 75 ft. to our west; and luckily no huge gust again lifted up the shards until we got to relative safely.
The eye of the hurricane passed just to our west, as winds gusted up to 130 mph. The hotel walls vibrated with each pounding gust.
The manager came over to us and made a request. We had showed him our Emergency Management badges that were provided to us by Florida Emergency Management; mainly for gaining access into restricted zones during hurricane landfalls. He frantically wanted our opinion, when the wind was going to shift, how strong the winds would get on the back side of Hurricane Hugo. The west wall of the area they had huddled their hundreds of quests was apparently built many decades earlier and they were worried it might collapse into that area as the winds shifted and picked back up. They wanted to know if they should move their guests elsewhere in the hotel to avoid a possible disaster.
We made it clear we could not be responsible for what happens, as we had no authority in Puerto Rico, but would offer our opinion how strong the winds would get on the backside. Based on past occurrences and my knowledge of Hugo’s wind field, I gave him our estimate, and he made his decision based on that. All came out OK as we predicted, and no injuries occurred. I left my camera running on the table, during this decision making process, and “secretly” recorded our conversation.
Hurricane Bonnie, 1998 provided another interesting occurrence. Two CBS Sixty Minutes crews were accompanying us to produce a piece for their show. Being “investigative reporters” by nature, but not so, we thought, on this specific assignment, they seemed more interested in knowing how we were able, over the years. to get through the official roadblocks to the evacuated barrier islands, when their crews were often denied access. We hid our civil defense badges from them, told them it was a trade secret, but knew eventually they would “find out” when we got them through the roadblocks to the NC coast to Wrightsville Beach, east of Wilmington.
I am quite certain the focus of the story was supposed to mostly observe and present the work of us rare few hurricane photographers that had been supplying their network lead-story footage for years now.
Andy Dressler, a some-time chaser, was driving my car at the time we went through the roadblock. The policewoman manning the roadblock came over to our car and asked why we wanted to go onto the dangerous evacuated barrier island. Andy presented his Florida Emergency Management Badge through the cracked window to the police lady standing outside in 80 mph winds and blasting rain squalls stinging her face.
“OK” go on out there, but be careful,” she screamed over the howling hurricane gusts.
The two cars-full of 60 Minute producers and camera men and three and us (Andy, Jim, and myself) proceeded to the far end of the island and set up for filming on the third floor of a parking garage, on the edge of the peninsula. 110+ mph gusts blasted though, the tidal surge covered the roads to two feet deep and more in some places, and the CBS guys filmed us doing our thing.
During the eye one of the crews decided (unwisely) to go back to the mainland to file a story for the Bryant Gumble show for later that evening. 20 minutes later a producer still with us gets a cell phone call from that other crew advising him that they had been arrested at the roadblock and the cops were coming out to arrest us as well for violating the 24 hour curfew and for other charges as well.
Sure enough, a deputy in a P/U got to the parking garage and ordered all of us scoundrels and “Yankee” newsmen to follow him back through the flood, in the eye, back to the mainland.
Once there, they set up a makeshift court in a bank building, called the local magistrate at his home, and insisted he come to administer the court hearing; as the second half of the hurricane was now coming ashore. Absurdity gone wild.
Apparently, the crew that went back through the roadblock opened a fat mouth to the newer policeman now manning the roadblock and got him angry with their arrogance. Probably. Nonetheless the hurricane is roaring outside and many network crews who were not allowed through the roadblocks were filming this court hearing through the glass doors of the bank/courtroom, hurricane winds whipping their backs.
The police lady, apparently was only supposed to let LOCAL Emergency Management officials and FEMA through the roadblock. She must have lied to her superiors and stated we told her we were from FEMA. Our badges said F (Florida) E (emergency) M (management) A (authority) and that is what we presented to her.
We were chastised by the local police captain / prosecutor during the hearing, and finally fined for breaking curfew and presenting ourselves as “officers”; and told we had to come back to a court hearing several weeks later. They formally ARRESTED Andy for driving the car and presenting his “false” (which they were not) credentials that got us through the roadblock. In the end it cost most of us several hundred dollar fines; but Andy had to hire a lawyer and pay him much more to explain to the formal court that our actions were not criminal.
The next morning Jim and I were asked to do a live interview about the hurricane and present footage on Good Morning America. Lo and behold, they knew about the arrest and court hearing, and were more interested in that. We agreed to do the interview, but only if they did not ask about that part of our hurricane Bonnie experience. The interview went fine.
Andy's and my experience of Hurricane Andrew can provide another hurricane experience story from 1992. If it were not nighttime, we likely would have positioned ourselves in the Cutler Ridge or Perrine Shopping Centers in S. Dade County. Good we didn’t, as both were basically destroyed and later rebuilt. We ended up at my house in Perrine and experienced the only Cat #5 hurricane that storm chasers have ever intercepted. Of course, several hundred thousand citizens also experienced Andrew as well.
Cars were flipped upside down across the street, but howling winds were so loud (like a jet engine next to your ear) we did not hear them flipping, from our cowered perch under a table in a fortified room in the house. http://www.hurricanevideo.citymax.com/albums/album_image/578146/101580.htm
Ceramic shingles from nearby homes were blown through the windows in other rooms and got embedded into the inside walls of those rooms. The extremely scary moments of Andrew were so intense, that I used up a whole case of toilet paper; hoping constantly the winds would start to abate. The roofs of many homes nearby flew off during the 175 mph gusts. and ours sounded like it was trying to lift off as well, but stayed intact.
A detailed narrative of our Hurricane Andrew experience can be read here:
A side story about my dedication, passion, and society serving activities of hurricane documenting is my 30 yr. association with now retired Emergency Management Director of the Florida Keys, Billy Wagner. He also serves as FEMA Liaison Officer when each hurricane hits the USA, sits at an office at the NHC. and coordinates local Emergency Operations in the area each storm is striking.
Early on he requested that I capture footage of surge inundating barrier islands, wanting to use such footage in his education of the public, as noted earlier in this narrative. He provided me the credentials that got me through the roadblocks to the barrier islands all along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts.
Billy also kept in touch with me during each hurricane strike and I provided him real-time data and reports of where the worst winds, surge, and damage were occurring. Post-storm deployment of resources depends on where the worst damage occurred, so our data and observations have been helpful in speeding up those deployment decisions. I am fairly sure Billy would participate in our production, if asked.
Although I have been featured on Dateline NBC, The Weather Channel, The Learning and Discovery Channels, PBS, etc. over the years; in each appearance I tried to minimize the best I could the attraction of others to chase hurricanes, emphasized how dangerous it was, and never boasted of the increasing business success with my DVDs and videocassette sales. The number of chasers did not increase but a few until after 2004.
#2 It has become easier, since 2004 or so, to locate where the eye of the hurricane is coming ashore, because one can now view the radar in their car with a computer. Before that, as my other script / outline on the science of hurricanes details, it took long experience and forecasting expertise, while embedded outdoors in the fringes of the hurricane, to determine where the eye would finally come ashore.
Competition selling footage and DVD sales has increased since that year, and the number of chasers is at least several dozen today. I could detail some of the petty tactics some of these copy-cat, yet inferior, storm video “producers” have used to usurp my hard earned reputation and business contacts; if that would provide an additional angle to the story---but not my favorite angle, that’s for sure.
Although mentioned above here and there, my early formulating a new type of business in an area never thought of before took a lot of work and chance investment. Soon after buying that first camera I sent publicity everywhere. Home computers not being used yet, I traveled to libraries to compile all sort of contact lists. I sent out publicity packages to every TV station along the coastal states from Maine to Texas. I wrote every Civil Defense Director in the same states. I repeatedly tried to set up stringer arrangements with all the major networks and some local affiliates.
Up until this point in time there was just a small handful of tornado chasers–all university researchers, and just Jim, Terry, and myself chasing hurricanes (and the few that came years before us that chased once or twice.)
What I did was unheard of by most, laughed at by many, and thought of as not a likely business venture. Eventually my work has been featured in many national and world venues and storm chasing has “progressed” and evolved.
Possibly combined with my other “script outline” for the Science and History of Hurricane Chasing http://www.hurricanevideo.citymax.com/science-and-history.html I hope you can find enough material to format an entertaining and educational production concerning hurricane chasing that is unique. The narrative above, of course, is not well organized, and is written in a stream of consciousness method that needs much refinement, trimming, and footage choices to accompany various segments.
Since 1984 I have produced 16 subsequent hurricane documentary / souvenir videocassettes and DVDs. Capturing the footage, coordinating my other contributing videogaphers during each mission, editing, producing, marketing, designing the advertising of each new video is my largest goal these days.
Soon after each hurricane, I start working 16 hrs. a day, 7 days a week to produce each DVD; to "beat" the growing competition in that field. Each subsequent DVD has generally sold more and more copies; with one latest DVD being sold to tens of thousands of consumers and educational entities.
In 2001 The Weather Channel acquired license to air several hours of short clips of hurricane footage I captured from 1984-2001; undoubtedly the largest sale of weather footage in history. Over 20+ years I made a living with the combined sales of DVDs and licensed footage; and provided some excellent income to several other dedicated hurricane photographers.
My videos and DVDs are now used in over 1000 public schools, 300 libraries, 200 Emergency Management Directors' offices, almost every college in the USA that offers a program in meteorology or atmospheric science (including MIT, Colorado State, and Florida State University), many overseas universities, at the National Hurricane Center, and the National Hurricane Research Lab.
PRODUCTION NOTE: It is understood that TV venues today are producing and broadcasting in HD.
A large majority of this new production will be in HD, including the following:
- Interviews with Rich Horodner detailing the experiences described in the above narrative.
- Interviews with other historical hurricane chasers involved.
- Interviews with other characters and government officials involved in the acendotal experiences detailed above.
- Segments shot at the National Hurricane Center.
- Re-visits to some of the cities effected by the historical hurricanes noted in the narrative.
- Maps, weather data (satellite and radar loops) created to enhance the educational science of the program.
- Some generic hurricane shots used as b-roll.
- Re-creations of some of the experiences detailed in the narrative.
Spectacular live-action footage of hurricanes that occurred before 2005 were captured before HD cameras came into existence. Clips of this nature will likely total approximately 8-12 minutes in this production. These will be converted into broadcast HD format.