A flight through Hurricane Hugo, remembered 20 years later

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 1:21 PM GMT on September 15, 2009

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The remains of Hurricane Fred continue to generate sporadic bursts of heavy thunderstorm activity over the middle Atlantic Ocean. These thunderstorms were generating winds up to 35 mph, according to this morning's QuikSCAT pass. Dry air and high wind shear of 20 - 25 knots today and Wednesday will continue to prevent regeneration of Fred. By Thursday, the chances for regeneration of Fred increase, since wind shear near Fred's remains will fall below 20 knots. However, continued high wind shear and dry air over the next two days will further disrupt the remains of Fred, and there may not be enough left of the storm to regenerate from by the time the wind shear drops. The NOGAPS model forecasts that Fred could regenerate by Sunday, when the remains of the storm will be approaching the Bahama Islands.

Satellite imagery shows a small circulation associated with a tropical wave about 200 miles west of the Cape Verdes Islands. Heavy thunderstorms activity has increased in this region over the past day. However, wind shear is near 20 knots, which is marginal for development, and shear will increase to near 30 knots as the wave progresses west-northwest into a band of high wind shear that lies to its north. It is unlikely that this wave can develop into a tropical depression this week, and NHC is giving it a low (less than 30% chance) of developing into a tropical depression by Thursday.

Tropical storm development is possible this week along a frontal zone stretching from the Bahamas northeastward. Anything that develops may end up being extratropical in nature, and would likely move northeastward out to sea.

The GFS model is predicting development of a new tropical wave coming off the coast of Africa early next week.


Figure 1. The remains of Hurricane Fred (left) appears as a swirl of low-level clouds with a clump of heavy thunderstorm activity on the northwest side. A tropical wave is 200 miles west of the Cape Verdes Islands (right), off the coast of Africa. This wave is probably under too much wind shear to develop.

A flight through Hurricane Hugo, remembered 20 years later
The events of September 15, 1989, have affected me more deeply than those of any other day in my life. The fifteen members of our crew very nearly became the first of Hurricane Hugo's many victims, and I am still grappling twenty years later with the emotional fallout from the experience. (If you are troubled by a traumatic experience, you may want to consider EMDR therapy, which I found to be helpful). The process of writing the story of that flight was also very therapeutic, and I worked intermittently for six years on the story while I was working towards my Ph.D. For those of you who haven't read it, do so! I worked very hard on it, and it is a remarkable story.


Figure 2. GOES visible satellite image of Hurricane Hugo taken on September 15, 1989. Image credit: Google Earth rendition of the NOAA HURSAT data base.

The Hurricane Hunters often carry reporters and camera crews on their flights, and the unlucky soul on our flight through Hurricane Hugo was young Janice Griffith of the Barbados Sun newspaper. Her account:

Horror of Hugo's Eye
TO a young reporter, with perhaps more journalistic curiosity than is good for her, it seemed a chance for a good story. To others, who were quick to tell me so, a flight into the centre of a powerful and dangerous hurricane was "sheer madness".

In the end, my journey Friday on a "Hurricane Hunter" aircraft with a hardened, professional crew was nerve-shattering, awesome, and unforgettable. When we limped back into Grantley Adams International after a beating from nature's fury in the form of Hurricane Hugo, I had my story. But I also had to agree that I must have been crazy to have gone in the first place.

Not that I wasn't forewarned.

You sure you want to go?" Dr. James McFadden, manager of the airborne science programmes of the United States Department of Commerce and head of the team asked when I raised the subject following their arrival from their Miami base on Thursday night. "It can be a very dangerous trip".

I wasn't fazed. After all, I'd flown a lot on commercial aircraft, from LIAT to large jumbo jets, and these hurricane hunter were experts who, I was assured, had been in the business of tracking storms in the Atlantic and Caribbean for a dozen years or more. Some had even been at it for 18.

They'd all been through and gone into the eyes of dozens of hurricanes and come back to tell the tale. Not even apprehensive as I, the only woman along with 10 men, boarded just before noon Friday and was shown to one of the four seats in the cockpit, just behind pilot Gerry McKim.

No hostess coming through with complimentary drinks here--or clicking on a seat belt. I was harnessed in like an infant in the rear seat of a car, waist and shoulders securely strapped. "Just in case", I was told.

While I observed, wide-eyed, everyone went about his business with the facility of someone who has done it all before a hundred times over--the pilot and co-pilot, Lowell Genzlinger, the flight engineer, the navigator, the weather experts. Everyone.

Calming effect
Their efficiency had a calming effect and the first half-hour or so, as we headed northeast to investigate and report on the details of Hugo's size and power, was no rougher than any commercial flight I've been on.

But then the sky began to close in with heavy, dark clouds and the 14-year old turboprop plane began to take the kind of buffeting it must have done several times during similar sorties.

The crew treated it all as a matter of course, getting on with their duties, checking radar and charts, communicating their information to headquarters in Miami, doing the other chores that seemed to keep everyone busy.

My notebook tells me we caught up with Hugo at 1:28 pm. For the next hour or so, I wondered why we ever tried--and I got the distinct impression almost everyone aboard wondered that too.

We were surrounded by clouds a dark gray, almost blue, color. The rain pelted down on the fuselage with an intensity that was deafening, like torrential rain on a galvanized roof and with a force that, it was later discovered, burst a small hole in the roof of the fuselage. When it was visible, the sea was almost black, like bubbling tar.

The computer print-out that had registered the wind speed from the time we took off peaked at 185 mph around this time.

We entered the eye--the area of low pressure that is completely calm and marks the centre of the hurricane--at an altitude of about 5,000 feet. Suddenly, my stomach seemed to become detached from my body as as the place dropped, I was told later, to 1,500 feet.

All hell seemed to break loose around and back of me. Briefcases, cups, soda-cans, books, anything unsecured came clattering down. The air conditioning shut down as did the radar and the weather computer. I just gripped the nearest arm and held on for dear life, realizing now why we had all been strapped in so tightly.

"That's unusual", flight engineer Steve Wade said when McKim and Genzlinger got back control of their plane. His attempt at sounding cool was father futile.

Dr. McFadden, a stocky man with gray beard and spectacles, came through, checking on us. He was visibly shaken.

"Everyone alright?" he inquired. We were but his face mirrored his concern when he told me: "This is the worst experience in all of our years going into a hurricane".

Soon there was to be even more. It was discovered that engine No. 3--the near right-side--had conked out. The pilots reported it was on fire and they had to shut it down. Another one was working but not at full capacity.

My life, I knew, rested in the skilled and experienced hands, and heads, of those in control of this wonderful piece of machinery. But, to tell the truth, I was never overcome by fear or panic. Somehow, I sensed all would be well.

Perhaps if I'd known more it would have been different, for we still had to find our way back out of the eye, to penetrate the wall again, and to gain elevation. To do that, on reduced power, meant jettisoning 7,000 of our 10,000 pounds of fuel to lighten the load and circling for an eternal hour while this was done.

Finally, a "weak spot" was found in the cloud formation and we could make an exit from the prison of the eye where we had been trapped for a frightening hour. Around us, winds were now registering 155 knots, and the plane was still being hammered by the weather.

But we were out of the eye and Dr. McFadden, in jubilant relief, exclaimed: "Let's get out of here". He echoed the feeling of everyone aboard.

The system engineer, Schricker ("that's it, don't worry about the first name", he said when I pressed) was more explicit. "I've been flying for 18 years and I don't think I want to fly again," he said.

As we got out of Hugo's clutches and left him to make his way towards the eastern Caribbean, Dr. McFadden put the experience in perspective for me. "You didn't really know what you went through," he said as we headed back to Grantley Adams, itching to back on Terra Firma. "We almost didn't get out of the eye. We almost didn't make it. It was a serious situation".

I believed him--and couldn't help wonder at the bravery of these men who so frequently risk their lives so that others may be saved from the destruction of the storms that head across the Atlantic annually between June and November.

They were working at Grantley Adams yesterday on getting that engine back into shape so that they could be ready the next time another one comes along.

They must be crazy!


Figure 3. An account of the September 15, 1989 flight through Hurricane Hugo posted by reporter Janice Griffith in the Barbados Sun newspaper.

Comments on Janice's story
The rain didn't really punch a hole the fuselage of our airplane as Janice reported. Also, we penetrated the eyewall at 1,500 feet, and dropped to 880 feet during the extreme turbulence in the eyewall. Other than that, Janice has the facts pretty well in hand, particularly the "They must be crazy!" part. Three of us--myself, radio operator Tom Nunn, and electronic engineer Terry Schricker--never flew again on a hurricane hunter mission. However, four members of that flight--Hurricane Field Program Manager Dr. Jim McFadden, Chief Systems Engineer Alan Goldstein, Navigator (now flight meteorologist) Sean White, and the director of NOAA's Hurricane Research Division, Frank Marks--continue to fly into hurricanes to this day.

I caught up with Janice Griffith via email last year, when I invited her to a "Hurricane Hugo survivors luncheon" for the twelve people from that flight who are still alive (alas, radio operator Tom Nunn, electronic engineer Neil Rain, and chief scientist Dr. Bob Burpee have passed on). Six of us got together at a hurricane conference in Orlando. Janice is still working as a reporter in Barbados, and couldn't make it. Her email to me:

"Nice Hearing from you.
Well after that trip into the eye of Hurricane Hugo,
I certainly will not be going on another.
We almost lost our lives.
And whenever I think about it...I just get some shivers".

Jeff Masters

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317. IKE
Long-term from Memphis,TN....

"LONG TERM (FRIDAY THROUGH TUESDAY)...
AT FIRST UPPER LOW CONTINUES TO SPIN AROUND THE REGION BEFORE A
MAJOR PATTERN CHANGES DEVELOPS.
BOTH THE ECMWF AND GFS ARE
INDICATING A PATTERN SHIFT BEGINNING ON DAY 6 WITH STRONG JET STREAM
DIGGING INTO THE CENTRAL UNITED STATES. EXPECT COLD FRONT TO PUSH
INTO THE AREA EITHER LATE MONDAY OR EARLY TUESDAY (TIMING STILL IN
QUESTION). THIS SHOULD LEAD TO FALL-LIKE TEMPERATURES. BOTH
MODELS SHOW A NORTHWEST FLOW PATTERN ACROSS OUR REGION THEREAFTER."
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Quoting eddye:
how could will it get in south fla with that cold front


Mid to upper 70s
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315. eddye
how cold tempature wise and i dont have that im 19
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Quoting eddye:
someone answer my question how cold will it get in se fl with that cold front
Cold enough to put on your SpiderMan long johns with the flap in the rear and the feet!
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311. IKE
Quoting IKE:
From this afternoons Houston,Texas extended discussion...

"THE 12Z RUNS OF THE GFS...ECMWF...AND GFS ENSEMBLE MEAN ALL AGREE ON
A MAJOR AMPLIFICATION OF THE UPPER PATTERN NEXT WEEK TYPICAL OF LATE
SEPTEMBER. A LONGWAVE TROUGH WILL CARVE OUT OVER THE PLAINS/UPPER MS
VALLEY EARLY NEXT WEEK...ENABLING THE FIRST COLD FRONT OF THE SEASON
TO PUSH THROUGH THE AREA IN THE MONDAY NIGHT/TUESDAY TIME FRAME.
WILL FORECAST CHANCE POPS MONDAY AHEAD OF THIS FEATURE. COOLER TEMPS
AT LEAST IN THE OVERNIGHT PERIODS EXPECTED FOLLOWING THE FRONT. THE
ECMWF SHOWS AN EVEN STRONGER FRONT COMING THROUGH END OF NEXT WEEK."



And what I say to that if it verifies....bye-bye hot/humid temps...for awhile....good riddance!
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310. eddye
someone answer my question how cold will it get in se fl with that cold front
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309. IKE
From this afternoons Houston,Texas extended discussion...

"THE 12Z RUNS OF THE GFS...ECMWF...AND GFS ENSEMBLE MEAN ALL AGREE ON
A MAJOR AMPLIFICATION OF THE UPPER PATTERN NEXT WEEK TYPICAL OF LATE
SEPTEMBER. A LONGWAVE TROUGH WILL CARVE OUT OVER THE PLAINS/UPPER MS
VALLEY EARLY NEXT WEEK...ENABLING THE FIRST COLD FRONT OF THE SEASON
TO PUSH THROUGH THE AREA IN THE MONDAY NIGHT/TUESDAY TIME FRAME.
WILL FORECAST CHANCE POPS MONDAY AHEAD OF THIS FEATURE. COOLER TEMPS
AT LEAST IN THE OVERNIGHT PERIODS EXPECTED FOLLOWING THE FRONT. THE
ECMWF SHOWS AN EVEN STRONGER FRONT COMING THROUGH END OF NEXT WEEK."

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Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
mid 60's with high 50's just north of the panhandle i would wait for further runs before i beleive it very strange for so early in the fall


Pensacola for 25 Sep

Temperature: Ave Record
Mean Temperature 77 °F
Max Temperature 85 °F 92 °F (1998)
Min Temperature 68 °F 51 °F (1975)

Today
Temperature:
Normal 87 °F 71 °F
Record 95 °F (1991) 60 °F (1985)
Yesterday 82 °F 75 °F

Houston today
Normal (KHOU) 89 °F 69 °F
Record (KHOU) 98 °F (1980) 55 °F (1892)
Yesterday 89 °F 72 °F

25 Sep Ave Record
Mean Temperature 77 °F
Max Temperature 87 °F 99 °F (2005)
Min Temperature 66 °F 50 °F (1994)
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
Quoting NEwxguy:


Doing ok buddy,hanging in there,came in here just in time to see you stirring things up,you instigator!


Moi? Instigator? I just calls 'em as I sees 'em, you know that...LOL
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Quoting NEwxguy:


I think we're in for a really bad
I'm up for a cold winter, but not a stormy winter. (at least, in SE TX)

I love cold weather, but don't have any fondness towards stormy winters. (those tend to bring misery to the NE, and ice storms here)
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Quoting seminolesfan:
It was actually the fancy footwork that I was admiring... :)


**bows deeply**

Why, thank you! While I can be rather verbose, I pride myself on being able to insult someone verbally and be out of the room ten minutes before they figure it out...
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Quoting Floodman:


I think you're right...the atmosphere needs a little "averaging" adjustment and a bad winter would about do it, huh?

How are you, NEwx?


Doing ok buddy,hanging in there,came in here just in time to see you stirring things up,you instigator!
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Quoting Floodman:


Well, I'm not one to pull punches, seminoles...LOL
It was actually the fancy footwork that I was admiring... :)
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299. eddye
how could will it get in south fla with that cold front
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Quoting NEwxguy:


I think we're in for a really bad winter


I think you're right...the atmosphere needs a little "averaging" adjustment and a bad winter would about do it, huh?

How are you, NEwx?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
over the lower lakes they are forecasting highs on saturday of 60 and that maybe pushing it with overnight lows in high 30's brrr what a way to start off fall and i had the heat service guys in today to clean all the boilers and set up the system for a start up just in case normally heat don't get turned on till mid oct but if the forcast holds it may have to go on by sun almost a month early
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 171 Comments: 53839
293. Relix
Anything new in the tropics guys??
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Quoting seminolesfan:
SICS (SittingInChairSmiling), Flood!


Well, I'm not one to pull punches, seminoles...LOL
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Quoting hydrus:
I believe you are right, if it reforms in the Atlantic he will go north and miss the U.S., If it stays weak, the damn thing will develop underneath us and somebody will be hit.


Not so sure about that. Agree that it is normally the case, but in looking at those initial BAM models, the shallow model is to the N and the deep model is to the S, with the medium in between.

Hmmm...
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Quoting Floodman:


They'd have to be, huh? That or we're all in for a really bad winter


I think we're in for a really bad winter
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289. IKE
Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
mid 60's with high 50's just north of the panhandle i would wait for further runs before i beleive it very strange for so early in the fall


That does seem a little extreme. I could see a high near 80 w/a low in the mid-upper 50's for late September here, with that strong of a front.
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An Anticyclone is moving closer to the Extratropical Low in the Bahamas.. Interesting.

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We might get a really cold winter this year, isnt it usually colder during el nino years?
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Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
mid 60's with high 50's just north of the panhandle i would wait for further runs before i beleive it very strange for so early in the fall


Tallahasssee had a low of 63 about a week ago.
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Quoting Floodman:


Your lack of sensory apparatus and the ability to utilize such aparatus never ceases to amaze me, JFV/WS...I was not trying to start a fight between you and Storm, and as for your opinion of me, there is no way I can detail for you my lack of concern along those lines...the words fail me...
SICS (SittingInChairSmiling), Flood!
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Quoting ElConando:


I suppose those are the low temps.


They'd have to be, huh? That or we're all in for a really bad winter
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Quoting IKE:


What is it for the panhandle of Florida? I'm color-blind.
mid 60's with high 50's just north of the panhandle i would wait for further runs before i beleive it very strange for so early in the fall
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 171 Comments: 53839
Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
here is temp outlook by fri sept 25



I suppose those are the low temps.
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The next storm that the GFS develops is going to be a tricky one to forecast IF it forms. Yes, a strong cold front comes, NO it does NOT shut down the season, hate it when people say that. However, the GFS shows a high building north of the "ghost" storm and heads it west. It could also get pulled out to sea, but the GFS slows the storm enough for the front to pass north of it. Interesting scenario, but we don't even know if it will actually form, so why make predictions? LOL :P
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Quoting IKE:


What is it for the panhandle of Florida? I'm color-blind.


upper 60's or low 70's
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Quoting jeffs713:

Lets be clear about this... What happens in your head, and what happens in the rest of the world are frequently two entirely separate things.

Also... wouldn't a landfalling tropical system be cause for concern?

And finally... please show me what evidence you have that exFred will "beat the cold front" to the coast. I'm actually interested in what you are seeing.
No Jeff, this is my world i just let y,all live here....
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 21209
278. IKE
Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
here is temp outlook by fri sept 25



What is it for the panhandle of Florida? I'm color-blind.
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...please show me what evidence you have that exFred will "beat the cold front" to the coast. I'm actually interested in what you are seeing.


No, I'm afraid that you really aren't...LOL
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THIS has been on my "wish list" for a while!


NASA Launches International Space Station Webcam Streaming Video

RELEASE: 09-054

NASA LAUNCHES INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION WEBCAM STREAMING VIDEO

HOUSTON -- Internet visitors can now see the Earth as never before --
live from the International Space Station via streaming video, seven
days a week.

The streaming video views of Earth and the exterior structure of the
station are from cameras mounted outside the laboratory complex,
orbiting Earth at 17,500 miles an hour at an altitude of 220 miles.
The video is transmitted to the ground -- and Web viewers --
primarily while the astronauts aboard the complex are asleep, usually
from about 1 p.m. to 1 a.m. CST. When live feeds are not available, a
map showing the current location and path of the station will be
streamed from NASA's Mission Control in Houston.

The streaming video will include audio of communications between
Mission Control and the astronauts, when available. When the space
shuttle is docked to the station, the stream will include video and
audio of those activities.

...

Link:

http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/index.html?param=station



Live Space Station Video

Live Space Station Video includes Earth views from external cameras on the International Space Station during crew off-duty periods, selected in-cabin views of crew activities during the crew on-duty periods, and a graphical world map that depicts the station’s location in orbit above the Earth using real-time telemetry sent to Mission Control from the station.

Since the station orbits the Earth once every 90 minutes, it sees a sunrise or a sunset every 45 minutes. When the station is in darkness, external camera video may appear black, but also may provide spectacular views of city lights below. In addition, satellite coverage may be intermittent and result in a display of color bars. Color bars or a black screen do not necessarily indicate a problem with the video stream.

The streaming video is being webcast as part of NASA's celebration of the 10th anniversary of the space station in orbit.
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Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
here is temp outlook by fri sept 25


Lies.

No way the highs get down to 60-65 in September in Houston. No. Freakin. Way.
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Quoting leftovers:
could be the one, might be better for everyone that it develops before the bahamas
I believe you are right, if it reforms in the Atlantic he will go north and miss the U.S., If it stays weak, the damn thing will develop underneath us and somebody will be hit.
Member Since: September 27, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 21209
Quoting WeatherStudent:


It'll prob. make landfall before then, so do not worry about it, Ike. It'll beat that cold front, you'll see.

Lets be clear about this... What happens in your head, and what happens in the rest of the world are frequently two entirely separate things.

Also... wouldn't a landfalling tropical system be cause for concern?

And finally... please show me what evidence you have that exFred will "beat the cold front" to the coast. I'm actually interested in what you are seeing.
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here is temp outlook by fri sept 25

Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 171 Comments: 53839
Quoting ElConando:


Thank you again it is clear that ex-fred has to go throguh too rough an environment to regenerate as Fred. Though it could assist in the generation of Grace.


Very perceptve and given the right circumstances probably very accurate
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270. flsky
Quoting WeatherStudent:
Storm, they've classifield worser looking things before, my friend. Therefore, why not this? Hence, remember the naked swirls in the North Atlantic?


Did you say you're in college? My, my, the state of education these days....
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Super Typhoon Choi-Wan is the first category 5 of 2009.
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Quoting presslord:
Flood...the pizwink...

and anyone who doesn't know what that is can WU mail me for an explanation...


LMFAO..."pizwink"? Can I use that one? I'll pay royalties on it!
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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.