updated 9/16/2004 11:31:38 AM ET 2004-09-16T15:31:38

Guest: Chip Simmons, William Gray, Stephen Leatherman, Roland Steadham, Janice Jones, Frank Billingsley

DEBORAH NORVILLE, MSNBC ANCHOR:  And good evening.  It‘s 9:00 p.m. on the East Coast, and hurricane Ivan is bearing down on the Gulf Coast.  Ivan has already ravaged parts of the Caribbean and left a path of destruction and death in its wake, pounding Grenada, Jamaica, the Cayman Islands and Cuba.  For the next hour, we will have the latest on the hurricane and look at where it‘s headed next.  We‘ll be talking with specialists and with meteorologists who make it their business to track these killer storms and they‘ll tell us what is behind this year‘s incredibly violent hurricane season.  Now for the latest on Ivan we turn to MSNBC meteorologist Sean McLaughlin at MSNBC world headquarters.

SEAN MCLAUGHLIN, MSNBC METEOROLOGIST:  Thank you, Deborah.  Good evening, once again, this continues to be a dangerous, powerful Category 4 hurricane, Hurricane Ivan.  Look at this well-defined eye.  This has been organized and strong all day long, and it looks like no signs of weakening by the time it makes landfall.  We‘re now less than eight hours away from landfall. 

Here are the latest coordinates as of 8:00 p.m. Eastern from the National Hurricane Center.  Look at that.  Sustained winds, they have not changed all day long.  Sustained winds 135 miles an hour, still a very low center of pressure, 27.49, if you look at your barometer at home, look on the wall there, that is way down there.  Movement to the north at 14.  This is very important, especially for the most populated area which is New Orleans.  It looks like New Orleans will be west of the eye, which is, if you are riding through a hurricane, yes, you‘re still going to get wind and rain, but it is the best place to be had when it comes to making landfall.  In fact, here‘s New Orleans right here on the VIPIR high resolution radar system that we have for you. 

Here are the current conditions; it‘s 80 degrees, it is gusting 53 miles an hour, but look, there‘s no rain over Lake Pontchartrain, but go a little east in Slidell and there‘s a lot of rain.  Let‘s come over to Biloxi, Mississippi.  And boy, you can see that 37 miles an hour, what does that translate into?  Gusting at 58 miles an hour, with moderate rain.  Let me step out of the way and show you a little more as we continue our little trek down the Gulf shore, there‘s Mobile, Alabama, we‘re real concerned about all of the flooding that could be possible up near the Mobile Bay.  Now this has been a very active area. 

This is Pensacola, Pensacola Naval Air Station, if are you familiar with that, gusting to 55 miles an hour and heavy rain, and now just all the way over to the east, near Fort Walton Beach, there is another area of very severe weather.  This area all afternoon, all evening, has been under tornado watches and warnings throughout the area, Panama City, tornadoes turning deadly with two people being killed at a restaurant when a tornado touched down about 6:25.  Let‘s talk another system. 

Let‘s go ahead and switch systems and show you what‘s going on, as far as tornado watches and warnings.  There‘s been about a dozen counties that have been under tornado warnings.  Now we are getting a little good news, some of these tornado warnings have since expired down here in the panhandle areas of Florida.  These little markers right here are sheer markers. 

Basically just showing a possible rotation in the upper levels, so we are keeping an eye on these three areas, with possible tornadic activity from this rain band.  Boy, this rain band has just been nonstop for this area of Florida. 

So that is the latest on Hurricane Ivan.  We‘re expecting landfall in about eight hours or less, in between Mobile and Pensacola, Florida.  So we‘ll want to turn it over to Milissa Rehberger over at the MSNBC news desk for the latest news.

MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC ANCHOR:  All right.  Sean, thank you.  Well, already beginning to take a pounding from Hurricane Ivan, the Florida panhandle as Sean just mentioned where the storm has already turned deadly.  Officials say at least two people were killed in Panama City by tornadoes that were spawned by Hurricane Ivan.  Let‘s get the latest from MSNBC‘s Ron Reagan who is in Pensacola, Florida.  Ron?

RON REAGAN, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Hey, Milissa.  Well, as you might expect, things are windy and they are wet here in Pensacola, and they are considerably more than that as you just said, tragically two people have died east of us in Panama City.  Killed by a tornado.  Those tornadoes usually stick in the outer bands of the hurricanes, and seven tornadoes have touched down that we have heard so far in our area. 

It is getting very nasty here, and it is coming our way, 135-mile-an-hour winds.  Now, what are people doing in Pensacola?  To tell us about that, we have the captain of the Pensacola police force, Chip Simmons.  And Chip, how many people are in shelters, how many people have left?

CHIP SIMMONS, PENSACOLA POLICE CAPTAIN:  Right now we have approximately 8,000 people in the greater Pensacola area, in shelters.  How many people have left?  Hopefully the majority of them.

REAGAN:  Now, I was driving around town today before things got as nasty as they are now, and I noticed that a lot of businesses boarded up, a lot of homes boarded up, but some people, including some businesses with big windows don‘t seem to have even put boards on the windows.  What is up with that?

SIMMONS:  I don‘t know.  You know, we called almost everyone, especially in the southern part of Pensacola and in the barrier islands and we suggested they leave.  Some people, they have weathered storms in the past think they will weather another one.

REAGAN:  What is the worst fear for you?  Is it the wind?  Is it the flooding?  Is it the tidal surge out toward the Bay, or of course on the islands out there in the sea?

SIMMONS:  I think it is a combination.  We have a bay here.  We‘re a water town.  So I think that the wind can cause trees to fall and obviously people can be hurt by flying objects but we also have the storm surge.  It‘s just a combination of the both.  The entire force of the hurricane has many factors to it.

REAGAN:  Now, tropical storm-force winds are just arriving here in Pensacola now, which means they are in the 50-mile-per-hour range.  How long can your officers stay out on the street in their squad cars?  How bad does it have to get before they just have to go inside?

SIMMONS:  We feel comfortable during tropical storm-force winds.  We think whenever the storms approach hurricane force, we‘re going to call our officers and have them find shelter then we‘ll come back when the storm has passed.

REAGAN:  How many officers on the street right now?

SIMMONS:  We have 160 officers available, we have them stationed throughout the city.  You know, just in strategic locations.

REAGAN:  This thing can go on now for hours and hours and hours.  This is a fairly slow-moving storm and we‘re talking eight, ten hours?  12 hours?

SIMMONS:  It seems so.  As you can tell, it‘s getting a lot worse here now.  But the eye is not projected to pass until sometime early in the morning.  So we‘re looking around 10 hours.  It‘s going to be a long one; we‘re in for a rough night.

REAGAN:  Yes, all of us are in for a rough night.  Milissa, as I said, 135-mile-an-hour sustained winds.  The last—the last track that we saw, the hurricane was actually turning a bit to the northeast, which means that the eye is heading right for us.  So we‘re in for a bumpy ride here tonight.  Back to you, Milissa.

REHBERGER:  Of course we know those things can change in a moment‘s notice.  MSNBC‘S Ron Reagan live in Pensacola, Florida for us tonight.  Thank you and do stay safe.  Reports from New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama coming up later on in the hour.  Deborah Norville is back after the break look at why this hurricane season has seemed so wild.  Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NORVILLE:  First there was Hurricane Charley, then Hurricane Frances, just three weeks later, both of them pounding Florida, now Hurricane Ivan is hitting the Gulf Coast.  How many more storms like this are on their way?  And does it seem that this year‘s hurricane season has been more active than normal? 

Joining me now to talk about this phenomenon is Dr. Stephen Leatherman, he is the director of the International Hurricane Research Center at Florida International University, also with us tonight, Dr.  William Gray, a climate researcher at Colorado State University.  He issues an annual hurricane forecast, and has done so for the past 21 years.  I thank you both for being with us.  Dr. Gray, let me start with you first.  Are there more hurricanes this season than usual?

DR. WILLIAM GRAY, CLIMATE RESEARCHER:  Sure.  There‘s more this year, but we‘ve had other years with nearly this number, too.  And look, for instance 1995 had as many early season storms at this time, and other years, 1950, 1955 did.  The most of the seasons, eight of the nine, ten seasons since 1995 have been very active, including this one.  Now, it‘s not the activity this year, although it‘s much above average. 

But in keeping with the typical year since 1995, what‘s different about this year, it‘s an active year and the surrounding storm steering currents are driving these storms to the coastline.

NORVILLE:  And Dr. Leatherman, we are already at the, what, 14th, 15th of September and we are already up to Ivan, we‘re hearing about Jeanne, that is further out in the water.  Why have they gotten so many significant storms that Americans can rattle off this time around this year as opposed to other years in the past where we may have had as many storms but didn‘t know about them here in this country?

STEPHEN LEATHERMAN, DIRECTOR INTERNATIONAL HURRICANE RESEARCH CENTER: 

Certainly when they make landfall, we all pay attention.  When they are far out in the Atlantic Ocean we can have four out there at a time, which we had a few years ago, and no one really pays much attention. 

In fact, people were telling me, what happened to all the hurricanes we‘ve been talking about?  We don‘t see them.  Well, this year, unfortunately, we are seeing them with the currents allowing them to get to shore, and with all the devastating force they are bringing.

NORVILLE:  And when you look at the storms, I want to throw a list up on the screen right now, looking at some of the deadliest storms to hit America.  Galveston was whacked in 1900, 8,000 people plus were killed.  Florida had one in 1928, perhaps as many as 12,000 people died.  In 1919 it was 600-900, and New England got one in 1938, a lot of folks remember that one, over 600 people killed. 

We‘ve heard the one in the Florida Keys that hit, that‘s the last time the Keys took a direct hit.  That was 423 people.  And you know, if you take away Hurricane Andrew in 1992, Dr. Gray, there really haven‘t been so many deadly storms lately.  Why the severity now?

GRAY:  Well, as I said, it‘s not the number of named storms, although they are above average for this year, it‘s that the steering currents— since 1995, the typical late-summer, early fall, we‘ve had a trough off the East Coast, which brought the middle latitude, westerly storms down and re-curved these storms to the right. 

So for instance, 1995, 1996, we had six major storms.  We‘ve had 4 so far this year.  But most of them turn before they got into the longitude of the U.S.  So this is an unusual year, but not that unusual in frequency.  What is different is the frequency‘s there and the steering currents to move this storm west are there.  We‘ve had...

NORVILLE:  And these steering currents, sir, when you look at the current patterns that are existing right now in the waters of the Caribbean and leading into the Gulf, is this trough continuing so that the next several storms that might develop would tend to follow this same path that we‘ve seen the last few weeks?

GRAY:  There‘s a little tendency that way.  You‘re not sure.  But once the storms start going west like they have been, you tend to get others following it, too.  We just had a ridge in the West Atlantic, or over the eastern U.S. that just steered these storms west. 

Now, I want to emphasize, we‘ve had a lot of storms this year.  But there have been other years that have had almost as many and this is natural changes. 

As a matter of fact, the U.S. has been extremely lucky over the last three or four decades, at the number of major land-falling storms, these Category 3, 4, 5 storms, on a normalized basis, do about 80-85 percent of the damage, even though there are only 20-25 percent of the number of named storms.  We‘ve been very lucky.

NORVILLE:  We probably have.  But a lot of folks tonight aren‘t feeling so lucky if they‘re in the path of Hurricane Ivan.  Is it true that there are often weather patterns, where there are cycles and you may have a six, seven, ten-year period where weather tends to repeat itself?  And if that‘s so, where are we in the current cycle of hurricane patterns?

GRAY:  Well, we—there‘s a multi-decadal variation that affects these major storms, you go 20, 30, 40 years when you tend to have more and then 20, 30, 40 years when you tend to have fewer.  Since 1995, we have been in this very active phase.  Now...

NORVILLE:  So we‘ve got another 30 years of this?

GRAY:  Well, nobody knows how much we‘re going to have.  But probably the pattern we have been in since 1995 will probably keep going another 20, 30 years.  We don‘t know.  If the future is like the past.

NORVILLE:  Whoa.  You know, when we look at the damage, and we‘re looking at some footage right now of Hurricane Charley‘s damage that was earlier in southwest Florida, what we‘re hearing may be the case as Hurricane Ivan makes landfall, is that this tremendous storm surge will be coming through, everybody is concerned about New Orleans already being under sea level and having the problems that are commensurate with that.  Is there some sense made by the idea that I‘ve heard some people float around about actually taking beachfront homes and elevating them up onto stilts and getting them away from that storm surge that storms like this bring in?

GRAY:  I think Steve Leatherman can answer that better.

NORVILLE:  Well unfortunately, Dr. Leatherman just got dragged away to go and do something with the hurricane center.

GRAY:  Ok.  Well, this storm, to me now, just come out from looking carefully at it, I think this is going to be a tremendous, damaging storm.  Probably more trouble than Charley was and probably the second most destructive storm since Andrew in 1992.  This looks like a very terrible storm. 

Now, in this area, from Morgan City to Panama City, we had Camille in 1969.  We had Frederick in ‘79.  We had Betsy come in in ‘65, and Andrew in ‘95.  So we‘ve had 4 major storms hit in this general Gulf area, and this looks more intense than any of them, except Camille.  So I‘m afraid to say that we are going to see quite a lot of damage.

NORVILLE:  Where do you think that damage will come from?  That damage would be from the high winds?  That damage would be from the storm surge?  Or both?

GRAY:  Oh, it will be from all three sources, namely storm surge, the beaches and so on, there will be a lot of flooding, particularly in the Mobile area, if it comes in close to there.  And there will be a lot of rain with it. 

Now, the rain damage will come later, as the storm moves inland.  But right now, it‘s the storm surge damage coming first, then the wind damage will come, and then later will be all this rainfall damage.

NORVILLE:  When we look at the satellite picture of Hurricane Ivan, it is ginormous, it is a huge storm.  As storms go, is the actual, physical area, square mile area of this storm exceptionally great or does it just seem that way because we‘re paying more attention?

GRAY:  No.  It is a large storm.  It‘s one of the largest storms we‘ve seen, equivalent to, say, Hurricane Hugo in 1989.  That was a very wide storm that went into South Carolina, there.  It seems to be a very wide storm and it‘s going to create hurricane-force winds over a broad area, maybe 250 miles wide along the coast, so there‘s going to be a lot of communities are going to feel this storm and have much damage with it.  I‘m sorry to say.

NORVILLE:  And we‘re sorry to hear that.  You know, I heard on the radio today, someone talking about the possibility of seeding hurricanes the same way that they will seed clouds to try to get them to rain, that you could actually introduce a substance into a hurricane cloud to somehow divert it or lessen its impact.  Is that complete science fiction or is there something to that?

GRAY:  No.  There was a project, 30, 40 years ago, looking at this and working, but for many reasons it didn‘t work out.  No.  There‘s no way in the next 50 years or so, we‘re going to alter these storms.  So we have to adjust to them. 

Now, one other comment I would like to make very much, there will be a lot of people thinking, oh, gee, there‘s all these land-falling storms this year.  Does that mean humans are changing the climate, and we‘re the cause of it?  And the answer is undoubtedly no.

NORVILLE:  All right.  I‘m going to let that be the final word. 

Because we are out of time, we‘ve got to see where this storm is right now.  Dr. William Gray, we appreciate you being with us.  Thank you so much, and Stephen Leatherman for the brief time we got to have you, we appreciate that, as well.  When we come back, the latest on Hurricane Ivan, so stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MCLAUGHLIN:  And good evening once again, everybody, I‘m MSNBC meteorologist Sean McLaughlin.  Deborah Norville will be back in a moment.  The latest now on Hurricane Ivan.  A new update from the National Hurricane Center.  Slowed down just a little bit.  Moving to the north at 12 miles an hour.  Now just 85 miles, the eye of hurricane Ivan, 85 miles off the coast of Alabama, Mobile, Alabama.  Still in the crosshairs of this major Category 4 hurricane, sustained winds now 135 miles an hour.  That has not changed all day long. 

So this will make landfall as a major hurricane.  Look at these outer rain bands.  They have been deadly; speaking of tornados, for Panama City, Florida, tornados will still be active throughout the night, as well as heavy rains.  You can see the center eye wall still very organized, very strong.  Again, just about 85 miles from making landfall in between Mobile Bay and Pensacola, Florida. 

Let‘s take a look at some rainfall totals.  So let‘s get you close in to the coastline.  This map right here shows us what has already happened.  These are the rainfall totals that have already happened.  Panama City, three inches.  Pensacola, three inches.  Two inches over on the east side.  Elsewhere, Mobile, Alabama, a couple of inches over there. 

Now what we‘re going to do is switch back over to the other computer and show you on top of what they have already received, here is what they can then expect once Ivan makes landfall.  So here we go, landfall, unfortunately right now, right up the Mobile Bay around 4:00 a.m., so about 6.5 hours, 7 hours away from landfall. 

Once we make land, the east side of the eye wall, the heaviest amounts of rain, look at these rainfall numbers for Pensacola.  7.5 inches, 6.5 inches for Mobile, and then right up the road, 6.9 inches, right up in through Montgomery.  We‘re talking almost 6.5 to 7 inches of rain on top of what they have already received.  Talking rain as far east over into Atlanta.  Watch the numbers climb as we go along the timeline, we‘re talking Friday night to midnight.  3.5, almost 4 inches for Birmingham, on top of high winds, damaging winds. 

So this once again continues to be a major wind and rain event, now 6.5 hours or so away from landfall.  We will have more, of course, on Hurricane Ivan throughout the night.  Let‘s toss it back over to Milissa Rehberger and the MSNBC news desk.  Milissa?

REHBERGER:  All right.  Sean, thank you.  Well, as Hurricane Ivan heads ashore the Big Easy is bracing for a huge storm.  New Orleans could take its worst hit from a hurricane in 40 years.  It is a city that sits below sea level.  And today, more than a million people got out of town.  NBC‘s Martin Savidge is live in New Orleans now with the latest for us. 

Martin?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening to you, Milissa.  Hurricane Ivan now starting to make his presence felt in the New Orleans area.  Wind gusts have gotten stronger throughout the past few hours.  We haven‘t really got hurricane-force winds.  These are tropical storm-force winds. And the good news is that is the most they expect to see. 

The highest wind gusts have been reported in the 90‘s, there are some people sitting in the dark right now, several thousand residents primarily in the eastern areas, not surprising, because that is closest to where the storm is striking.  But already government officials in New Orleans are using terms like dodging the bullet and missing the big one.  They do believe that since this storm went more to the east, that they are going to get just a glancing blow. 

The other surprising thing?  No rain.  Not a single drop of rain, and that is good news, talking about flooding.  Still, the evacuation did go ahead.  It started yesterday, and as you point out, a lot of people were on the road, it‘s anticipated actually 65 percent of the population fled the New Orleans area.  That posed a problem at times, especially last night, near gridlock conditions out on the major highways as they were heading out of town. 

But by the remainder of the day today, the roads quickly eased up.  In fact, there was a curfew in place, it will continue as long as the storm continues to impact the area.  There are shelters of last resort that have been opened up.  Most famously the Superdome, now said to house about 1,000 people.  There were concerns that there‘s a population of 100,000 people unable to escape, had no place to go and these shelters were set up just for them and there they are tonight riding out the storm. 

The good news is they have been fed and they‘ve got television.  So the concerns about flooding at this hour have not materialized.  They are not expecting a lot of rain.  They do believe that the levees can hold the water back and that the pumps can take over if they do not.  There has been some water coming in, especially over by Lake Pontchartrain, but it is not said to be a major event.  Milissa, it‘s looking pretty good so far.

REHBERGER:  Well, hopefully they‘re not speaking to soon.  Martin, you know as well as I do these things can change in a hurry.

SAVIDGE:  They can, indeed.  And as you point out, the sea level here, in most cases, they are 8 to 9 feet below sea level.  That‘s a problem if the water starts to come in.

REHBERGER:  All right.  Martin Savidge in New Orleans for us tonight. 

Thank you so much.

Deborah Norville is back after the break.  Stay with us.  You are watching MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NORVILLE:  Interesting Andrew.  They couldn‘t even measure because it blew away the instruments that do so.  We‘re now going to talk to three of the busiest people this time of year.  What is it like to cover, to track and then live through major storms like Hurricane Ivan. 

Joining me now, 3 NBC TV meteorologists from three of the nations hurricane hotspots.  Roland Steadham is from WTVJ in Miami.  Frank Billingsley is with KPRC-TV in Houston.  And Janice Jones is with WNCN up in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Thank you all for being here. 

We were talking earlier in the program about why there are so many storms.  I‘m curious to hear each of your opinions as why.

We‘ll start down in Miami with you first, Roland. 

ROLAND STEADHAM, WTVJ METEOROLOGIST:  Well, Deborah, first of all, I think that the atmosphere is driven by the ocean.

And the ocean has been becoming more conducive for the development of tropical systems.  In fact, I was hearing Dr. Gray earlier on your program earlier.  And Dr. Gray for the longest time has been warning us that the ocean cycles about every 30 years, where we see a 30-year cycle of active hurricane activity.  We saw that in the ‘30s through the ‘60s.  Then about a 30-year lull, from ‘60s to the ‘90s, things were quiet.  And then all of sudden, Hurricane Andrew and beyond that, in the mid-‘90s, 1995, 1997, 1998, we saw unprecedented hurricane activity. 

And now here in 2004, the Atlantic Ocean has become very conducive for

just about every storm that develops to become a major storm.  Four out of

the five hurricanes we‘ve seen so far in the Atlantic Basin have been

majors.  And that‘s unprecedented.  Not only that, but also, too

(CROSSTALK)

NORVILLE:  Let me just stop you there, because you are down in South Florida.  You guys have already had the brunt of two storms.  Are people on edge just at the prospect of Hurricane Ivan? 

STEADHAM:  Oh, everybody is.  This community is at a breaking point.  At this point, we can‘t handle any more.  You remember, Hurricane Frances shut pretty much down the state.  People were running out of gasoline on the turnpike and on the freeways. 

Families were stranded because there was no gas to be found anywhere pretty much from Tallahassee south to Orlando into South Florida.  So there was a substantial amount of panic associated with that.  And what we‘re starting to see with this large very hurricane, and because it is so large, a Category 5 storm now, but it has been a Category 5 -- we‘re seeing such a large storm in general headed toward the state of Florida, a lot of people‘s nerves are on the edge right now.

And we‘re talking about people‘s livelihoods at stake here. 

NORVILLE:  You bet.  You bet.

STEADHAM:  And it‘s been affecting our economy. 

NORVILLE:  Janice, let me turn to you up in North Carolina.  You all have had certainly more than your share, it would seem, of storms this year, too. 

Part of your job is to just show the viewers where the storm is, where it‘s likely to come, what the best predictions are.  But I wonder, how much of your job is also there to be a reassuring force that we do have a handle on this?  Do you feel that when one of these events is coming through? 

JANICE JONES, WNCN METEOROLOGIST:  Oh, absolutely, absolutely.

And that plays a major role.  For North Carolina, we see many effects from storms; 80 percent of what we feel from hurricanes that come through here or any tropical system are not from direct hits to our state; 20 percent is to direct hits from our state.  But most of the time, what I‘m talking about is a storm that may be making landfall in Florida, making landfall in South Carolina, making landfall in Louisiana, and still going to affect us. 

So, all season long, almost every storm that pops up, North Carolinians have to focus on.  So I do find myself sort of guiding them through.  And, certainly, this has been an exhaustive August. 

NORVILLE:  But we know flooding is a huge problem and that has certainly been the case with a lot of the storms that have come through in North Carolina.  A moment ago, Bill Nye said that—it may sound outlandish—but the idea of actually putting oceanfront homes, businesses, et cetera, on stilts, might not be such a bad idea. 

Janice, what do you think about that? 

JONES:  I think that the boom that‘s growing along the coastline not just of North Carolina, but all the way down to the coast of Florida, is part of why we feel such a pressure that these seasons—we‘ve had not only more activity, as we talked about these weather patterns, long-term weather patterns that are bringing more activity, and a weather pattern, a shorter-term weather pattern this season that‘s steering the storms into the same places. 

You combine that with all of these homes being built on the coastline, besides whether you want to find out ways to try to build them safer or not I think is just really a sidebar issue to the fact that, yes, people are not going to stop moving to the coastlines. 

NORVILLE:  Yes. 

JONES:  So you add on more activity, people building onto the coastlines, and then the wider and better media coverage, it becomes quite a frenzy, and a fear frenzy sometimes. 

(CROSSTALK)

NORVILLE:  Yes, it‘s not just the people there on the coast where it‘s going to hit.  The rest of us sort of feel your pain, if you will, even if we‘re not in the direct path of the hurricane.

Frank, you cover hurricanes and tornadoes and all kind of things for KPRC down in Houston.  Help us understand how the hurricane scale works.  They‘re talking Ivan coming in as a Category 5 as it slammed into the islands in the Caribbean.  It‘s one monster of a storm.  How do these delineations come about? 

FRANK BILLINGSLEY, KPRC METEOROLOGIST:  How do the what come about? 

I‘m sorry.    

NORVILLE:  The delineations on the, what is it called, the Saffir-Simpson scale. 

BILLINGSLEY:  Oh, the Saffir-Simpson scale.

Well, it‘s all about how fast those winds are in that storm.  When it hits 74 miles per hour, that goes to hurricane.  And then when it hits about 96, it‘s Category 2, and then Category 3 at 111, and then Category 4 at 131 and then Category 5 at 155. 

And that sounds weird because it‘s really based on knots per hour, which is then calculated to miles per hour.  So it comes out just a little funny.  But it‘s interesting to note particularly that wind field, because a lot of people don‘t realize that wind force is exponential. 

For instance, Deborah, if you take a 25 mile-an-hour wind and a 100-mile-an-hour wind, you might think, well, 25 times four, the 100-mile-an-hour wind is four times stronger.  But four is the exponent.  So it‘s four times four.  The 100-mile-an-hour wind is 16 times stronger than the 25-mile-an-hour wind. 

And when you look at potential damage, a Category 5 has 500 times more potential damage than a Category 1.  In fact, a Category 4 has 250 times more potential damage than a Category 1 based on that wind field.  And that alone shows you the difference.  It‘s almost when you look at an earthquake and you know that there‘s a big difference between a 6.9 and a 7.9, huge difference.

And there‘s a huge difference between a 100-mile-an-hour hurricane and a 130-mile-an-hour hurricane and a 160-mile-an-hour hurricane.  The damage potential is astronomical. 

NORVILLE:  What‘s the worst you‘ve been through, Frank? 

BILLINGSLEY:  Well, I covered Andrew in Louisiana.  And that came in with 100-mile-an-hour winds.

And the wind—of course, we couldn‘t even open the satellite truck door and the wind was driving the rain horizontal, which a lot of people in Florida saw even with Frances.  It takes about a 90-to-100-mile-an-hour wind to do that.  That in terms of wind was the worst that I‘ve been in. 

In terms of rain, we didn‘t even had a hurricane.  We had Tropical Storm Allison in 2001.  And that dropped on Houston in the northeastern part of the city 42 inches of rain, because it was moving so slowly.  There‘s a good rule of thumb people should remember as far as rainfall.  If you take the speed of the storm and you divide it into 100, you will get about how much rain it will drop.  So a 5-mile-an-hour storm that is moving 5 miles per hour will drop 20 inches, whereas, if it‘s moving 20 miles an hour, it will drop five inches.  

NORVILLE:  That‘s what we saw in Florida. 

BILLINGSLEY:  Frances, for instance, was moving about nine miles an hour, right, and dropped about 11 inches of rain.  So there is a huge amount of difference in the rainfall.  And it‘s good to note that when you see a storm coming at you. 

NORVILLE:  Yes. 

Roland, when you guys had the storm coming through, the two storms coming through in Florida, one of the things—and you always go out and do it.  You guys go out there.  The reporters go out there.  You are holding to a light pole.  Your feet are out there behind you and you are showing the folks at home how windy it is.  Why do you need to do that?  That‘s horrifically dangerous.  And we know it‘s windy.  Why is there this urge to put reporters our there?

(CROSSTALK)

STEADHAM:  I think because there‘s a compelling story that is there and we feel it‘s a story that needs to be told. 

However, I will say this, Deborah.  Our station I think goes out of its way to make sure that people are in a safe environment at all times.  I don‘t think we take some of the risks that some other stations do.  One of these days, somebody is going to be standing out there and a stop sign is going to come off a post and it is going to kill somebody on the air.

And at that point, I think a lot of television stations will probably say, you know what?  We need to reassess how we cover these storms and putting people in harm‘s way.  But so far, that really hasn‘t happened. 

We‘ve seen people like Dan Rather who would get out there and hold on to a

post when a Category 2 hurricane is coming on shore.  And as a result, look

what it did for Dan Rather‘s career.  We see a lot of people

(CROSSTALK)

NORVILLE:  Yes, but we saw Tony Perkins from “Good Morning America” the other day, the weekend after the storm, he had a big patch on his eye because his cornea was scratched.  He was lucky that is all that happened.

STEADHAM:  Absolutely.

(CROSSTALK)

STEADHAM:  I‘ve also seen people, Deborah—I want to say that I have also seen reporters completely buckle under the stress of being out there. 

Some people just say, I can‘t do this.  I don‘t want to do this.  I

saw one reporter—and I won‘t mention the station here, but I did see one

reporter that actually went from standing up and holding on to a stop sign,

going down into a fetal position while on live television.  And they said -

·         they just started mumbling.  And I could not make out what they were saying.  They were obviously scared to death.

NORVILLE:  Are you worried, Janice, when reporters are out there doing that kind of thing that it is going to give the idea to someone, a viewer at home, to go out and see what it‘s like?  Gee, the guy from channel whatever can do it.

(CROSSTALK)

JONES:  I absolutely am. 

And, you know, Deborah, that‘s the nature of being able to show, as Roland said, these compelling pictures.  It‘s a catch-22.  We want to show you the pictures.  I know people are interested in seeing the pictures.  And in some way, you can convey the danger that way.  But then there are the thrill-seekers who are going to think, I want to risk myself in the danger as well. 

Deborah, I also want to point out that I do see some positives in this very active season.  At least for North Carolina, these reminders, these constant storms that keep coming through here, we get maybe a week‘s break and we get to feel the storms again, are squashing the complacency. 

And I hope—I‘ve worked in Florida as a meteorologist, in Georgia as a meteorologist.  I hope this is taking a lot of people‘s complacency out of their plans for hurricane season.  In North Carolina alone, we haven‘t had such concerns about direct hits this season.  It‘s the two storms that you will probably not talk much about again for this year, Bonnie, Gaston, that gave us our greatest amount of deaths here in the state from tornadoes. 

So the whole perspective of hurricane season shouldn‘t be the reporter hanging on the street sign, but what can we do to plan for what our specific threats are and our specific state and our particular town in that state?  And people individually need to start thinking about these things and having plans and realizing that it may not be one threat per season.  It may be two threats per season.  For North Carolina, it‘s been six so far. 

NORVILLE:  Right. 

And, Frank, you have the added burden.  Not only do you have hurricanes that you have to forecast, but in the upper part of the state, come next spring, you will also be worrying about tornado season. 

BILLINGSLEY:  Yes. 

In fact, Harris County, where Houston is, reports some of the highest numbers of tornadoes across the country.  So we have Tornado Alley up in Dallas.  We get our share of tornadoes.  We had a huge outbreak of tornadoes this last spring, with these big fronts that were coming through.  We had a problem with that.  And then we faced starting June 1 the hurricane season.  And then we have our secondary tornado season in November. 

NORVILLE:  Yes. 

BILLINGSLEY:  So we have—it comes right back in February.  So it‘s sort of summer, spring—the only thing we don‘t have is snow, but we do get ice storms. 

(CROSSTALK)

NORVILLE:  A lot can happen, too.  In a year like this, don‘t be a bit surprised if you are not forecasting snow one of these nights.

(CROSSTALK)

NORVILLE:  Listen, you guys are working very hard this time of year and we appreciate very much to find some time to talk with us.  We wish you well as you do your forecasting. 

(CROSSTALK)

NORVILLE:  And we‘ll be right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MCLAUGHLIN:  And you‘re looking live at Pascagoula, Mississippi, home of that big naval shipyard, about 12,000 employees, completely evacuated out of this area right in the heart of Hurricane Ivan. 

Good evening once again.  I‘m Sean McLaughlin, MSNBC meteorologist joining you once again to keep you updated on Hurricane track Ivan.  Deborah Norville will be back in just a second.  There‘s Pascagoula.  Lots of rain just to the east over in Bayou La Batre over here in portions of Alabama, Mississippi.  This is going to be right in the heart of landfall in about 6 hours or so.

Here‘s the latest from Pascagoula, gusting 41 miles an hour, with heavy rain being reported. 

Let‘s zoom back out and show you what‘s going on with Hurricane Ivan.  Very little change all day, all night tonight, meaning it‘s still a strong, powerful category 4 storm.  Sustained winds 135 miles an hour.  And again, landfall now in about 6 hours.  It‘s about 80 so miles off the coast of Alabama.

Let‘s talk about the latest position.  It‘s moving to north at 12 miles an hour.  Still a very good tight eye wall.  Let me fly you down into the gulf shore and show you what‘s going on from New Orleans eastward.

New Orleans, you‘re looking real good, actually.  Once this eye passes you to the east, you‘re going to be west of the eye wall, I think you‘re going to be in real good.  You will still have high winds and heavy rains.  And again, we don‘t want to count anything out, you‘re still under a hurrican warning.

But again, it still looks pretty good, gusting at 53 miles and hour, so you are going have some power outages, some trees down, some powerlines down as well.

Now, let‘s get into the heart of where we think landfall is going to occur.  Here‘s Gulf Port, here‘s Biloxi.  Biloxi gusting 58 miles and hour with moderate rain.  Ther‘s Pascagoula, we already talked about that.  But we‘re kind of crawling over here to the east, getting closer over to Mobile Bay.  They‘re going to have a heck of a storm surge moving up through there.

Here‘s Pensacola.  Pensacola Naval Air Station.  Gusts 55 miles an hour with heavy rain.  And they‘ve had some very severe weather.

If we can switch over to the other computer, I can show you what we‘re talking about.  They‘ve had several tornado watches and warnings.  These red boxes are counties currently under tornado warnings, these blue boxes are now flash flood warnings.  We‘re going to have anywhere from 7 to 10 to 15 inches of rain once this makes landfall.

Of course, keep it here on MSNBC.  We‘ll have the latest on Hurricane Ivan.  Let‘s toss it over to Milissa Rehberger for the latest news on the MSNBC news nest.

REHBERGER:  And as Sean was just saying, Hurricane Ivan could come ashore very close to Mobile, Alabama.  That is where NBC‘s Robert Hager is stationed for us tonight.  Hi, Bob.  And what is the latest there?

ROBERT HAGER, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Hi, Milissa.

Well, as you can see, we have a fair amount of rain.  This is maybe a little deceiving in the picture of it, because we are in the courtyard of our motel here in order to keep the transmission secure for the moment to stay on the air.  If I were out in the open, it would be gusting a little more than this, but you‘d see about the same precipitation.

And we‘re getting gail force winds now.  And it‘ll build as the evening goes on, because right now, if it stays on the projected path, the eye comes right up Mobile Bay.  So we should be right in the center of it.  And then the eye should come ashore, I think, sometime a short while after midnight.

So already, there‘s been tragedy along the Gulf Coast, if we can show you some pictures that we have from a tower cam, from a station in Panama City, Florida.  There, there was a tornado, 1 of about 7 or 8 tonadoes, but this particular one killed 2 people.  So those are the first fatalities of this storm, and that‘s sad news indeed.  There may be more tornadoes before the evening is out.  We have a tornado watch up for another couple of hours.

Those tornadoes were on the outer band.  And Panama City is on a kind of hump of land that juts down into the Gulf of Mexico, not unlike what the Outer Banks of North Carolina, how they jut out into the Atlantic, so they get a lot of Hurricanes.

Panama City always gets lashed.  And that‘s where there, unfortunately, been those 2 deaths reported, the first 2 deaths of this storm.

So—other news from around here, our motel lights, the power keeps flickering on and off.  There‘s a lot of Mobile that‘s already lost its power.  And so before this is over, their tons of trees in this city, we‘ll just have a lot of power out—Milissa.

REHBERGER:  NBC‘s Robert Hager.  Please do be safe.  Thank you very much.

Deborah Norville is back with how you can help victims of Hurricanes Charley, Frances and Ivan.  That‘s coming up after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NORVILLE:  Send us your ideas and comments to us at norville@msnbc.com.  And some of you have e-mailed us and asked how you can help the victims of Hurricanes Charley and Frances, and now Hurricane Ivan.  So we put some information on what you can do on our web page.  The location for that is norville.msnbc.com.  And while you are there, feel free to sign up for our daily newsletter. 

MSNBC will have live updates on this storm throughout the weekend.  So keep it right here.  Thanks for watching.  I‘m Deborah Norville.  Have a good evening.

END   

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