Synopsis of FCMP Deployment
Isabel captured the attention of the FCMP during the second week of
September 2003. Initially, it appeared that the storm’s path would
bring in within striking distance of Florida’s Atlantic coastline as
it emerged from the Greater Antilles. Uncertainty in the forecast
beyond that point, namely the influence of troughs/ridges that would
eventually steer the storm, brought great trepidation to communities
in hurricane prone regions of the Atlantic coast. At its peak
intensity, the hurricane, with Saffir-Simpson Category 5 winds and a
50-nm eye, represented a major threat to lives and property.
By the end of the week, meteorologists at NOAA’s
Tropical Prediction Center had narrowed the projected path of the
storm to landfall somewhere in or above the Carolinas. On Saturday,
September 13, FCMP teams were put on standby, anticipating deployment
to that region. Final testing of the new “internet-capable” data
acquisition system completed earlier in the week, and for the first
time, the FCMP mobile towers were synced with forecasters at the
Hurricane Research Division of NOAA to transmit real-time high
resolution data every 15 minutes from the field. Equipped with this
new technology, the team from the University of Florida left Monday
with towers T1 and T2 and arrived in Morehead City, NC early Tuesday.
The optimal location for a tower (for maximum winds)
is north of the predicted landfall for a hurricane striking the
Atlantic coast. Achieving this end required tower deployment around
the outer banks, a great challenge for the FCMP. First, traveling on
barrier islands required that the team arrive well in advance of the
closures of inbound traffic lanes. Secondly, potential tower sites
were limited by the storm surge potential for that area.
After coordinating with the Clemson University FCMP
team and researchers from Texas Tech University, the UF team decided
to deploy T2 proximal to Morehead City, (north of the latest
forecasted landfall). With the help of South Carolina Sea Grant, the
team contacted the North Carolina Department of Environment and
Natural Resources and received permission to erect at Tower at Fort
Macon State Park. T2 went operational at 11:30 AM EDT, and afterwards,
the team secured lodging in Morehead City.
For the remainder of the afternoon, the team scouted
Craven and Pamlico counties to locate a site amenable to the new
satellite tower system, which required an open 200’ swath of land to
erect the three towers. As nightfall approached, it became apparent
that the majority of the coastline was unacceptable for deployment,
given the reach of the estuary system and its favorable environment
for flooding and storm surge. The team backtracked its survey and
received permission to deploy the towers on a horse ranch in Oriental,
a small town five miles inland. Meanwhile, the Clemson FCMP team
arrived in Wilmington to begin instrumentation of a home the following
Early Wednesday morning, the UF team traveled from
Morehead City to Wilmington to reorganize teams. The first (southern)
team remained in Wilmington to instrument the home, and the second
(northern) team pulled the remaining towers northward to deploy in
Elizabeth City (T0) and Cape Hatteras (T3), two population centers
with established local contacts and potential for higher ground. As
the northern team split off, 36 hours remained until the expected
landfall of Isabel.
The T0 Team secured a site at the Elizabeth City Coast
Guard Airstation. Bordering Pamlico Sound, the flat expanse of terrain
afforded by the airport provided a significant amount of upwind open
exposure. After some modifications to the new software were made, T0
went operational at 1:41 AM EDT. The team secured lodging for the
entire northern team nearby.
The T3 team traveled through Manteo to reach the outer
banks. After conferring with locals, the team decided to deploy the
tower at Billy Mitchell Airport, purportedly the highest ground in
Cape Hatteras. T3 went operational at 10:14 PM EDT, and afterwards,
the team drove to Elizabeth City to join up with the remainder of the
northern team to bunker at the Coast Guard Airstation.
Meanwhile, the southern team had split, allowing one
group to complete the home instrumentation and the other to refill the
onboard generator on T1 in Oriental. New information concerning
flooding at the existing site, however, prompted the team to relocate
the tower. With the home nearing completion, the team decided to
relocate T1 to capture the wind field in the vicinity of the house.
The teams recombined and erected the tower system at a nearby boat
ramp. T1 restarted at 12:20 AM EDT.
After the storm passed, the priority of all teams
involved became retrieval of instrumentation. For towers, T0, T1 and
T2, this was a straightforward operation, but extracting T3 from Cape
Hatteras required significantly more effort than inserting it.
Multiple roadblocks separated the team from the tower, each
progressively more difficult to negotiate. After acquiring the proper
permit, the team stopped in Kill Devil Hills to perform damage
surveys. The imposed mandatory curfew throughout the outerbanks forced
the team to continue south to collect the remaining tower, however.
The storm surge that impacted the strip of land
between Nags Head and Rodanthe rendered US 12 impassable in some
areas, leaving up to 6 ft. of aerated sand across the roadway. Using
the 4-wheel drive and bypassing the road via the beach, the team
inched their way down the coastline, arriving in Cape Hatteras in the
early afternoon. With the assistance of several road crews (and their
bulldozers), the team returned to the mainland that night.
Participating Team Members
Kurt Gurley, PhD
Tim Reinhold, PhD
Spencer Rogers, North Carolina Sea Grant