Guests: Jimmy Weekley, Amy Culver, Bill Nye, William Gray, John Murphy, Roland Steadham, Janice Jones, Frank Billingsley, James McFadden
ANNOUNCER: DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT.
DEBORAH NORVILLE, HOST: Hurricane track: Ivan. Florida, already battered already by two of the most destructive hurricanes in recent memory, prepares for yet another beating. After ravaging the Caribbean, Hurricane Ivan continues its deadly track toward the Florida coast, as stormy-weary residents are still coping with the devastation left behind by Charley and Frances.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shock and awe. I mean, I‘m still—I‘m still a little dazed by it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It‘s awful. It‘s just awful.
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NORVILLE: Tonight, the specialists that make it their business to track these killer storms. They will tell us what‘s behind this summer‘s violent hurricane season...
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the only number I have seen.
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NORVILLE: ... and give us a birdseye view of nature‘s awesome fury.
And just how prepared are we to deal with its aftermath?
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GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The federal government is doing everything we can to help you.
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NORVILLE: Is there any escape from the eye of the storm?
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go ahead, Frances. We‘re here!
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We‘re still alive!
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ANNOUNCER: From studio 3K in Rockefeller Center, Deborah Norville.
NORVILLE: And good evening, everybody. It‘s hard it believe the people of Florida could be going through this yet again. Another monster hurricane is bearing down on the state. Hurricane Ivan, packing 160-mile-an-hour winds, could hit the Key West area by Sunday. This, of course, would be the third hurricane it hit in the last month. And the last time three hurricanes hit Florida in a single season was back in 1964.
Ivan, the most powerful hurricane to hit the Caribbean in 10 years, has already torn through Barbados, Grenada and other islands, killing at least 16 people. It damaged 90 percent of the homes in Grenada. Even the prime minister had to be rescued after his house was destroyed.
Ivan is expected to reach Jamaica tomorrow, then Cuba, and on to Florida, where evacuations are already under way in Key West. There are about 83,000 residents and tourists in Key West this week, and it is the third time this month that Key West has been ordered to evacuate. After Hurricane Charley Hurricane and Frances, one resident said, The first one was wide left, the second one was wide right. Looks like this one‘s coming straight up the middle.
Ivan is now fluctuating between a category four and category five storm, five being the most intense measurement of hurricanes. There have only been three category fives to hit the United States, and one of them hit Key West back in 1935. More than 400 people were killed. The other two storms were Camille in ‘69 and Hurricane Andrew back in 1992.
Joining me now on the telephone from Key West is Mayor Jimmy Weekley and the owner of Mango‘s (ph) restaurant, Amy Culver. And we thank you both for being with us. The reason we don‘t have you on TV is because there‘s no TV crew down there. They‘ve all left town.
MAYOR JIMMY WEEKLEY, KEY WEST, FLORIDA: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) understand that.
NORVILLE: And Mayor, are you planning to leave, too? The evacuation order has been given for residents, as well, effective tomorrow morning.
WEEKLEY: No, I‘m not. I will be over at the emergency operations center, and I will be going over there late tomorrow evening or Saturday sometime. And I will stay there through the duration of the storm.
NORVILLE: Sir, you‘ve got over 80,000 people in Key West right now and...
WEEKLEY: Well, let me correct that.
WEEKLEY: First of all, Key West is a population of 26,000. The entire county is 85,000 residents. We earlier today, at 9:00 o‘clock, we issued an order for all the non-residents to begin evacuation, and they started, you know, approximately at that time. Tomorrow morning, there will be a mandatory evacuation of all the residents of Key West to start out, and then mid-day tomorrow, the middle part of the county, which is Marathon, the middle Keys area, will be required to start their evacuation. And then later on that day, probably around 4:00 o‘clock, the upper Keys will begin their evacuation.
NORVILLE: So it makes sense. You start the furthest point out and you sort of gradually get everybody...
WEEKLEY: Right. You have to remember that we‘re a bunch of islands 125 miles long, and we‘re at the very end...
NORVILLE: You bet.
WEEKLEY: ... of the Florida Keys. So we have the longest way in which to travel. And you‘re looking at US-1, which is a two-lane highway.
NORVILLE: Yes. So there‘s not any fast way out of town. That‘s for sure.
WEEKLEY: No, there isn‘t.
NORVILLE: Amy, are people looking at this one differently? I mean, certainly, Charley and Frances were monster storms, too. But now the third one coming, and they‘re saying it‘s coming directly your way. Are people talking this differently?
AMY CULVER, KEY WEST RESTAURANT OWNER: This one has a whole different feel to it. you know, I‘ve been here 15 years and have never evacuated, including for Andrew. And I just think everyone is kind of keeping a left eye on it. As one of the old conks (ph) said to me today, the Gods are bowling. So you know, you got to watch out. And with a category five, you really seriously need to make sure that everybody‘s safe and not be a burden to the city or the county.
NORVILLE: Where are you going to go, though? I know there are a lot of hotels are already filled up in Florida, where you typically would probably go to wait it out.
CULVER: Well, actually, you know, this morning was pretty funny. And thank God for American Express Platinum. We‘re headed straight to Atlanta.
NORVILLE: You have to go that far to find a hotel room?
CULVER: Well, you have to remember that the other cities in Florida have been hit, and those people that have been displaced have already taken hotel rooms.
NORVILLE: Mayor, not everybody can do what Amy and her colleagues at the restaurant are planning to do, get in their car and head out of town. What do you do about the elderly? What do you do about people who are in hospitals, to get them to safe ground?
WEEKLEY: Well, the hospital takes care of their patients through their evacuation. And the social service providers of the county will evacuate the senior citizens that need assistance in being evacuated.
NORVILLE: Yes. Amy, I understand before you head for Dodge, there‘s one stop you‘re going to make down there in Key West. There‘s a grotto you‘re going to visit? You want to tell me about that?
CULVER: Well, we‘ve already visited several times, and this is a grotto that is supposed to keep Key West safe. And hopefully, that will happen. And you know, we‘re just keeping an eye on it.
WEEKLEY: It was built by the Sisters of the Holy Name after the hurricane of 1935. And the nun that built it said as long as the grotto stood, Key West would never again be hit by a major hurricane.
CULVER: So at the beginning of every season, everybody brings flowers or brings a candle. And we‘ve been to the grotto a few times.
NORVILLE: I bet you have. Well, Mayor Weekley, we know you‘ll be waiting out the storm there in the evacuation center in Key West. We wish you and your colleagues safety. Amy Culver, safe trip out of town, as well as the other residents.
CULVER: Well, we‘ll see you at Fantasy Fest.
NORVILLE: OK. Thank you very much.
CULVER: OK. Bye-Bye.
NORVILLE: We‘ll have more on Hurricane Ivan in just a moment. And if it seems that this year of hurricanes, four already formed, there‘s another two-and-a-half months left in the season? What‘s going on? We‘ll try to find out. When we come back, an explanation as to why so many storms this year and what could lie ahead.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I‘m going to remember Hurricane Frances.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I‘m going to be proud of her the rest of my life for that.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It‘s a big old storm, but it‘s not going to stop me.
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NORVILLE: That‘s a woman in Florida talking about how last weekend‘s Hurricane Frances wasn‘t going to stop her wedding from taking place.
First Florida was hit by Hurricane Charley. Three weeks later, it was Hurricane Frances. Next up, could it be Hurricane Ivan? Could Florida really get three in a month?
It certainly seems that this year‘s hurricane season is a lot more active than normal. And joining me now to talk about that is William Gray, a climate researcher at Colorado State University. He‘s been issuing annual hurricane forecasts for the past 21 years. Got lots to talk about with you, sir. And Bill Nye, “The Science Guy,” who knows all about all kinds of things, including hurricanes. We thank you, Bill, for being with us, as well.
Professor, let me start with you first. You look at this every year. You look at the weather trends and wind patterns, and you predict how many hurricanes there will be. Did you all see this many coming so quickly on top of one another?
WILLIAM GRAY, CLIMATE RESEARCHER: We predicted an above-average year, but not this much for the first half. We‘re about halfway through. Now, we predicted above-average August, but not near as much. No, it‘s a bit of a surprise to us why the first half of the season has been as active as it has been. But there have been other seasons that have been about as active as this present season has been. And actually, Florida residents have been extremely lucky, if you view things from a long-term point of view. For instance...
NORVILLE: Yes, but they‘re not looking...
NORVILLE: Excuse me, sir. They‘re not thinking long-term point of view. They‘re looking at the last 30 days, and they‘re going, Why do we continually get walloped? Is there a weather reason why so many storms so quickly in the same place, more or less?
GRAY: Yes, well, the last—since ‘95, we‘ve had very active years. This—having this many storms is unusual, but it‘s happened many times previously. What is new is that we‘ve had a lot of these major storms, but the steering currents have driven them over land. We‘ve had many years where we‘ve had as many of these major storms, but they‘ve recurved, or the steering currents have been such they just haven‘t come over land. So it‘s the coming over land of these storms that has made it such an unusual season.
NORVILLE: Yes, when it comes over land, it tends to kill people and destroy houses. Let‘s take a look at some of the deadliest storms that have hit the United States. First there was Galveston back in 1900, 8,000-plus—nobody really knows for sure. In 1928, Florida, 8,000-12,000. Florida and Texas both got whopped in 1919, 6,900. Then New England, 1938, more than 600. And the Keys were hit, as we heard, in 1935. There were 423.
Bill, do you expect the death tolls to be significantly less nowadays because we‘re so much better and being able to see where they are on radar and tracking them along?
GRAY: Oh, sure, yes.
NORVILLE: There was for Bill Nye, sir. Oh, you‘re both Bill. OK, Bill Nye, “The Science Guy.” That was for you.
BILL NYE, “THE SCIENCE GUY”: Well, it‘s just that maybe there‘ll be fewer people because we see the storms from satellites and we have a lot more airplanes detecting them. But I think you hit the nail on the head, Ms. Norville. You said, Well, these people in Florida are only thinking about the last 30 days. We can‘t do that. I mean, we have to think of much more as sort of a geological timescale. These things take place every year.
NYE: Sometimes they hit land, and sometimes they don‘t. But we could certainly do a lot better job, at least looking at your video in Florida—
I mean, look at the stop signs. That‘s the roof, I believe—right there, that‘s the roof of a post office. Now, a post office is a federal building. I, as a taxpayer and voter, put the roof on that building, and it can‘t stand the storm. I mean, this is not going to be—this is not going to go away. I mean, i‘s very bad that three of them have come this year and hit land, as Bill was saying, but it‘s also—with all due respect to my fellow voters and taxpayers, a little weird that we are so struck by them—pun intended—every time they hit. And I look at the stop signs...
NORVILLE: Well, you‘re saying that what we ought to be doing is maybe not spend so much time yakking about the velocity and ferocity of the storm and spend a little more time about the building codes, which—admittedly, they were strengthened significantly after Hurricane Andrew. People who had mobile homes that were still standing in Punta Gorda had newer model mobile homes.
NYE: That‘s good. That‘s good. But those streetlights that you see swinging around, those traffic lights, those are not up to snuff. And the stop signs look just like the stop signs in Colorado. I mean, they should be a different design in a place that‘s going to get 130-knot, 140-knot winds—well, not every year, but certainly every 10 years. That‘s nothing...
NORVILLE: Let me ask you about...
NYE: ... compared to the...
NORVILLE: ... about the trends. You talk about sometimes the weather pendulum. And we remember when El Nino, it seemed, for abut 7, 10 years was causing lots of storms and flooding, and then the pendulum swung another way. Bill, do you see a pendulum swinging so that we‘re going to continue having these storms? Bill Nye, “The Science Guy,” because we have two Williams on the show. And is it global warming? A lot of people say, It‘s that global warming. You know, they had that movie the beginning of the spring about “The Day After Tomorrow.” This is “The Day After Tomorrow” come to pass. Is there anything to it?
NYE: Well, the world is definitely getting...
GRAY: Can I...
NYE: ... warmer. Bill, you go ahead. The world‘s definitely getting warmer. The cause isn‘t clear. And Bill, see if you agree with this. I‘ll hand it to you in just a moment. As more energy gets in the atmosphere, you got to expect that these storms will become either stronger or more frequent, but the order of magnitude is less than 10 percent over the next century or so. So it‘s happening, but it‘s not the kind of thing that‘s going to cause three hurricanes a month for the rest of—until 2020. It‘s not that significant. Go ahead, Bill.
NORVILLE: Bill Gray?
GRAY: Yes. Yes. Well, I think this is overplayed a lot. I am quite confident that human-induced global warming has nothing to do with these storms. We see these trends. There—our global temperatures that go up, and we have more or less major storms, or they go down, we have more or less. Now, the Atlantic basin has had a lot more major storms. Since ‘99, we‘ve had 37 of them, of which only four have hit the U.S. So that‘s only one in nine. However, the long-term average has been one in three. So we‘ve been very lucky.
So the cause of these up-and-down trends—for instance, the first two decades of the 20th century, the trend of major storms was down. From the middle ‘20s to the middle ‘60s, it was up. From the middle ‘60s to the middle ‘90s, it was down. Now it‘s back up. We see this related to the multi-decadal thermal halian (ph) circulation back and forth. We just happen to be in one of these active periods. We don‘t know how long in the future it‘ll go, but if the future‘s like the past, it may go on another 10, 20, 25 years.
NORVILLE: Right. So that is something that people care about. And whether it‘s hitting in Grenada, where 90 percent of the homes have been destroyed, or bearing down on Florida, you know, people do care. And I don‘t know that the media overplays it. Goodness knows...
NYE: No, no.
NORVILLE: ... if it wasn‘t reported that the storms were coming, people would be there and they would be right in the midst of harm‘s way. Bill Nye, you‘re shaking your head at me.
NYE: Yes, yes. Well, I‘m saying I‘m agreeing with you. But here‘s the thing. No matter what—whether the climate models are off 5 percent or 10 percent, or whether they‘re perfectly accurate, these storms are not going to go away. And we have to do a better job of getting people, let‘s say, for example, in Florida and Grenada, prepared for these things. And by that I mean not just able to escape, not just able to fly to Atlanta with their credit card, which is great, but to be able to withstand them.
You know, I can imagine a future in Florida where many of the buildings—I‘m not joking with you—would be on stilts, very robust stilts. And that would be part of the cityscape. It would be, frankly, kind of cool. And then every year, these—the horrible things would come through, but people would ride them out. They would still be productive during—while all the surface water was draining, and so on.
And I have—since I‘ve been on this program last weekend talking about this thing, I‘ve gotten a lot of e-mail from strangers in Florida—very nice, thank you—and people have sent me articles from Florida newspapers complaining about the lack of enforcement of these new building codes. And I‘m not saying that that‘s what‘s going on, but people have tried to alert me...
NYE: ... an interested observer of the human condition, about these -
· this trend. It‘s easier to ignore building codes than enforce them, maybe.
NORVILLE: Yes, well, you know, in the next block, we‘re going to be talking with some people whose job would be directly related to enforcing business codes, as we go back to Punta Gorda, where there was so much damage. But you look at the situation right now, Bill Gray, if you‘re predicting that there‘ll be 10, 20 years, perhaps, of continued weather activity similar to what we‘ve just seen, what are you predicting now for the next three months? Because the hurricane season officially lasts...
GRAY: Oh, OK.
NORVILLE: ... until the end of November.
GRAY: Right. We‘re at about the middle of the hurricane season now.
I don‘t believe the second half will be near as active as the first half. As a matter of fact, in October, due to the Pacific water temperatures, we think October will be a little bit below average. So we don‘t see—I think the activity will be calming down some, and this will end up, when all is said and done, as a pretty active season, but comparable with other very active seasons.
NORVILLE: Briefly, Bill Nye, you think we‘re at the top of the curve and it‘s going to taper off for the rest of the season?
NORVILLE: No, Bill Nye. It‘s not you turn, Mr. Gray. It‘s Bill Nye‘s turn.
NYE: Sorry, Mr. Gray. Sorry, Dr. Gray. I mean, whether we‘re at the top of the season or not, if I lived in Florida, I would be sure to have water, batteries. I‘d certainly be prepared for another storm. And suppose it‘s 80 percent of this one, it‘s still bad. I mean...
GRAY: Well, certainly. Certainly. But you have to realize...
NORVILLE: All right, I‘m going to have to let that be...
NYE: No, but you guys—I want you—but Deborah, one last thought.
NORVILLE: No, you can‘t. All right...
NYE: Notice that Dr.—well, Dr. Gray was talking about the Pacific Ocean, the temperature in the Pacific Ocean affecting the hurricanes in the Atlantic. And I just bring this up because it‘s a complex problem. I mean, don‘t go—if I may, don‘t go blaming the scientists for not making accurate predictions about these storms.
NORVILLE: Oh, nobody‘s blaming the scientists.
NYE: It‘s fantastically complex.
NORVILLE: On the contrary, if we didn‘t know you guys had told us that hurricane was down in the Caribbean, people wouldn‘t have been packing up in Key West...
NYE: Wouldn‘t have been ready, yes.
NORVILLE: ... days before it got here.
NYE: And so...
NORVILLE: We‘re going to have to let that...
NYE: ... the problem...
NORVILLE: ... be the end of it. Bill Nye, thank you. And you‘re right, the MSNBC viewers are great about e-mailing. We love to hear from them. William Gray, we thank you, as well, for being with us.
And when we come back, we‘ll be talking with three meteorologists who live right in this hurricane-prone region we‘re talking about, Florida, Texas and the Carolinas. They‘ll join me with their take on the storm season in just a moment. Stay tuned.
NORVILLE: Florida‘s already been hit with a devastating hurricane one-two punch, first Charley, then Frances three weeks later. And now comes Hurricane Ivan, bigger and deadlier than the other two. And we‘re told it could hit the state as early as Sunday.
Punta Gorda was ground zero for hurricane Charley and its 145-mile-an-hour winds. What used to be a quaint riverfront town of 15,000 people is pretty much in ruins now. Ten people in the area died. There was billions of dollars in damage. And then Hurricane Frances hit. That only made things worse. The only saving grace, that Frances was not a direct hit. But now everyone in the area is bracing for Hurricane Ivan.
And joining me from Punta Gorda are Vice Mayor John Murphy. The roof and the back of his house were destroyed during Hurricane Charley. And with him there is Charlotte County fire chief Dennis Diddio (ph). And gentlemen, thank you both for being with us.
First, Mr. Vice Mayor, let me ask you, how—you‘re living in your house, I understand. How do you do that, if it has no roof and no back end?
VICE MAYOR JOHN MURPHY, PUNTA GORDA, FLORIDA: Well, it does have a roof. I lost a lot of my tiles off my roof. I lost the back end. My screened-in pool area I lost. I lost some shingles around the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of the house. But it‘s livable. And my wife and my grandson and I, we‘re still there, and we‘re still holding on.
NORVILLE: As I look behind you, I see some of the wreckage moving, and we can hear the wind blowing, and the sky looks pretty ominous. It looks like even before Hurricane Ivan, you guys are about to have a big thunderstorm come through. Do people have the jitters down there?
MURPHY: I didn‘t understand what you said.
NORVILLE: Do people have the jitters nowadays, with the weather being the way it is?
MURPHY: Well, I think our people are still calm. They‘re still bracing themselves for the next one that‘s coming towards us. Their spirits are still up. We feel that Punta Gorda‘s going to be stronger and better than ever. And now it‘s raining out here.
NORVILLE: Oh, this is—this is terrible. You guys OK?
MURPHY: Yes, we‘re all right.
NORVILLE: OK, you know what? We‘re going to—we‘re going to thank you for being with us. We‘re not going to do anything dangerous. Gentlemen, you step in. TV crew, you get in out of the thunderstorm. We‘re not going to do anything to put anyone at risk. Thank you, gentlemen. Stay safe.
We‘re going to take a short break. That was the vice mayor of Punta Gorda and the fire chief down in there a thunderstorm. We‘re not talking any risks.
But when we come back, we are going to take a moment and talk about the hurricane hunters. These are the folks that fly airplanes directly into the eye of the storm so that we will know the kind of danger that‘s on the way. We‘ll talk to one of those brave pilots in just a moment.
NORVILLE: Three meteorologists who live an area that is a magnet for hurricanes will join me with their take on the brutal storm season we‘ve endured.
Stay with us.
NORVILLE: It‘s interesting. Andrew, they couldn‘t even measure because it blew away the instruments that do so.
We‘re now going 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, three NBC TV meteorologists from of the nation‘s hurricane hot spots. 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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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
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: 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
NORVILLE: And we‘ll be right back.
NORVILLE: When hurricanes get closer to land, millions of people head in the other direction. But there‘s a group of brave people who do the exact opposite. Their mission is to fly straight into hurricanes and major storms. They‘re the pilots, navigators and scientists of the Aircraft Operation Center of NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They are known against hurricane hunters. They fly out of MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.
And joining me now by telephone from Saint Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands after flying through the eye of Hurricane Ivan is Dr. James McFadden. He is the program manager and chief scientist for NOAA‘s Aircraft Operations Center.
Sir, thank you for being with us. You‘ve been in this monster storm.
What does it look like?
JAMES MCFADDEN, NOAA AIRCRAFT OPERATIONS CENTER: Well, I flew in it on Tuesday, Deborah. And, of course, it wasn‘t Category 5 then, but it was gaining strength and was a mean-looking storm. It was a broad storm with strong winds. And we flew it about the time it was passing over Grenada, as we passed right by that island.
NORVILLE: And what do you do when you and the team fly into the hurricane? You are obviously there to get certain calculations and measurements. What does that involve?
MCFADDEN: Well, there‘s a tremendous number of instruments aboard the aircraft that are used for a variety of research purposes, reconnaissance purposes.
We have radars. We have instruments that look at cloud physics, dynamics stuff. We have things we throw out of the airplane that give us profiles in the atmosphere of temperature, pressure, humidity and wind. And this year, we have a special instrument aboard this aircraft that we‘re flying right now, which will give us the wind field at the surface of the ocean.
NORVILLE: Which means you can tell how large the storm is, how many people, how much of the ocean surface will be affected by the actual winds themselves?
MCFADDEN: Well, let me give you an example of what we saw on Tuesday.
On the right side, or the north side of the storm, the hurricane force winds went out about 50 miles and the tropical storm force winds went out 128 miles.
MCFADDEN: So 128 from the center, people are feeling 35-knot, 40-knot winds, or a little higher. And you have that broad a storm that moves across an island or moves into the United States like Frances did. Frances was a huge storm. And we flew it six consecutive days last week.
NORVILLE: How does this storm compare to Frances and some of the other monsters that you‘ve been in?
MCFADDEN: Well, this storm is, of course, vacillating between a 4 and a 5. Last year, we had a couple of storms—Fabian was Category 4. Isabel was a Category 5 when we flew them both out of Saint Croix. So this storm is on the same level as those two that we flew last year.
NORVILLE: Is it scary to you?
MCFADDEN: Well, not flying in it particularly, because I‘ve doing it for so long, even though there is a certain risk involved.
NORVILLE: But I mean the prospect of what it could do?
MCFADDEN: Oh, well, I‘m scared, because I have a home in Miami and I have an apartment in Tampa. And, you know, both of those are sort of in the cone of probable landfall. So I‘m worried, yes.
NORVILLE: As this storm continues, you said flew the other one, Frances, about six times, how many times will the team fly into the storm and at what point do you say, mission accomplished, we don‘t need to go in there anymore?
MCFADDEN: Well, we‘re flying—a lot of our missions are tasked by the National Hurricane Center. They want this surface wind data from the airplane, because we‘re the only ones who can do that right now. So they will fly us as often as they feel it‘s necessary.
They‘re flying us today. They‘ll fly us Saturday when the storm is just south of Cuba. They will fly us Monday morning very early, like 2:00 in the morning, as it emerges off the coast of Cuba. And then they will continue flying it until it makes landfall essentially. They want to know how broad the wind field is in this storm.
NORVILLE: And once it hits landfall, it‘s not necessary to know about the wind field because you obviously can tell what‘s going on, on the ground.
MCFADDEN: Right. Right.
NORVILLE: When you compare this storm to the many others—and I understand the next time you go up, that is going to be number 500 for you going into a hurricane—is there ever a sense of foreboding on your part or the rest of the team members?
MCFADDEN: Every flight.
The first penetration, there‘s that sense, that apprehension, concern as to what you are going to see when you get there, what you are going to feel, how strong the storm is going to be, how turbulent the ride is going to be. But once you get into the storm, you fairly well understand the nature of it for that particular day. And that apprehension goes away and you go about doing your business the rest of the flight. And we may make three, four penetrations into the storm on any one flight.
NORVILLE: And when you are making that initial penetration, I guess it‘s kind of like reentering the Earth‘s atmosphere. Is that the most traumatic time in terms of the flight?
MCFADDEN: Yes. That‘s the one that has your adrenaline flowing the most.
NORVILLE: How bumpy is it?
MCFADDEN: Sometimes, it‘s extremely bumpy. Sometimes, it‘s not too bad. But that‘s a relative statement, obviously, coming from me, who has made 499 penetrations. But the flight on Tuesday wasn‘t so bad. The flight today was a little bumpier.
NORVILLE: Well, we hope all of your flights end with smooth landings and that the data you provide to the national hurricane service and NOAA is useful in helping people safe.
Dr. James McFadden, thank you very much for being with us from Saint Croix.
MCFADDEN: Thank you, Deborah.
NORVILLE: We‘ll take a break. And when we come back, we‘ll let you know how you can help the victims of Hurricane Charley, Hurricane Frances and Hurricane Ivan.
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‘re there, feel free to sign up for our daily newsletter.
MSNBC will have live updates on the storm throughout the weekend, so keep it right here.
Thanks for watching. I‘m Deborah Norville. Have a good evening.
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