Scientists Drive 'Doppler On Wheels' To Hurricane Harvey

Aug 25, 2017

As thousands of Texans flee coastal communities, a group of scientists drove all night to be present for Hurricane Harvey. 

The first thing you should know, is that you should never drive into a hurricane. But if you have to like Josh Wurman head of the Center for Severe Weather Research, don't get out of the truck...unless you have to.

"You know these radars take a big beating. We're getting 100 mile per hour [winds] and salt water. And it's brutal. Water finds its way in, so sometimes the radar breaks, and we're trying to go outside and put goggles on because otherwise you get blinded by the sand and salt water," Wurman says.

Wurman and his team are in the small town of Fulton, which sits on the coast in Aransas County.

They have been driving around all day surveying where Hurricane Harvey will make landfall. Another radar team drove 18 hours to get the Center's "Doppler on Wheels" from Boulder, Colorado to Fulton. They arrived this afternoon.

The plan is to lay out four 120 lb remote sensors, called pods, and park their massive 13-ton, doppler mounted truck, right in path of the hurricane's eye...and wait.

The storm passes overhead and Wurman along with two to three scientists sit for hours in the 8'x4' cab, crammed with equipment collecting wind-speed and other data to improve our understanding of hurricanes, all while the storm rages around them.

This is Wurman's 14th hurricane, and he says his team knows what they're doing. They always place themselves in a position above the storm surge, but that doesn't mean they don't miscalculate occasionally. In fact he says they did on their last attempt, 2012's Hurricane Isaac.

"And the surge was twice as high as expected. But fortunately we had a big enough safety margin. Even though it seems like we are going into danger and being daredevils, we are not," Wurman says.

Hurricane Harvey is forecast to be the strongest winds the 'Doppler on Wheels' has ever observed.

The Doppler on Wheels program is funded by the National Science Foundation.