Did Hurricane Wilma have 209 mph sustained winds?

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 1:00 PM GMT on April 28, 2012

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At last week's 30th Conference on Hurricanes and Tropical Meteorology of the American Meteorological Society, Dr. Eric Uhlhorn of NOAA's Hurricane Research Division presented a poster that looked at the relationship between surface winds measured by the SFMR instrument and flight-level winds in two Category 5 storms. Hurricane Hunter flights done into Category 5 Supertyphoon Megi (17 October 2010) and Category 5 Hurricane Felix (03 September 2007) found that the surface winds measured by SFMR were greater than those measured at flight level (10,000 feet.) Usually, surface winds in a hurricane are 10 - 15% less than at 10,000 feet, but he showed that in super-intense Category 5 storms with small eyes, the dynamics of these situations may generate surface winds that are as strong or stronger than those found at 10,000 feet. He extrapolated this statistical relationship (using the inertial stability measured at flight level) to Hurricane Wilma of 2005, which was the strongest hurricane on record (882 mb), but was not observed by the SFMR. He estimated that the maximum wind averaged around the eyewall in Wilma at peak intensity could have been 209 mph, plus or minus 20 mph--so conceivably as high as 229 mph, with gusts to 270 mph. Yowza. That's well in excess of the 200 mph minimum wind speed a top end EF-5 tornado has. The Joplin, Missouri EF-5 tornado of May 22, 2011 had winds estimated at 225 - 250 mph. That tornado ripped pavement from the ground, leveled buildings to the concrete slabs they were built on, and killed 161 people. It's not a pretty thought to consider what Wilma would have done to Cancun, Key West, or Fort Myers had the hurricane hit with sustained winds of what the Joplin tornado had.


Figure 1. Hurricane Wilma's pinhole eye as seen at 8:22 a.m. CDT Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2005, by the crew aboard NASA's international space station as the complex flew 222 miles above the storm. At the time, Wilma was the strongest Atlantic hurricane in history, with a central pressure of 882 mb and sustained surface winds estimated at 185 mph. The storm was located in the Caribbean Sea, 340 miles southeast of Cozumel, Mexico. Image source: NASA's Space Photo Gallery.


Figure 2. Damage in Joplin, Missouri after the EF-5 tornado of May 22, 2011. Image credit: wunderphotographer thebige.

Official all-time strongest winds in an Atlantic hurricane: 190 mph
The official record for strongest winds in an Atlantic hurricane is 190 mph, for Hurricane Allen of 1980 as it was entering the Gulf of Mexico, and for Hurricane Camille of 1969, as it was making landfall in Pass Christian, Mississippi. In Dr. Bob Sheets' and Jack Williams' book, Hurricane Watch, they recount the Hurricane Hunters flight into Camile as the hurricane reached peak intensity: On Sunday afternoon, August 17, and Air Force C-130 piloted by Marvin Little penetrated Camille's eye and measured a pressure of 26.62 inches of mercury. "Just as we were nearing the eyewall cloud we suddenly broke into a clear area and could see the sea surface below," the copilot, Robert Lee Clark, wrote in 1982. "What a sight! Although everyone on the crew was experienced except me, no one had seen the wind whip the sea like that before...Instead of the green and white splotches normally found in a storm, the sea surface was in deep furrows running along the wind direction....The velocity was beyond the descriptions used in our training and far beyond anything we had ever seen." So, the 190 mph winds of Camille were an estimate that was off the scale from anything that had ever been observed in the past. The books that the Hurricane Hunters carried, filled with photos of the sea state at various wind speeds, only goes up to 150 mph (Figure 2). I still used this book to estimate surface winds when I flew with the Hurricane Hunters in the late 1980s, and the books are still carried on the planes today. In the two Category 5 hurricanes I flew into, Hugo and Gilbert, I never observed the furrowing effect referred to above. Gilbert had surface winds estimated at 175 mph based on what we measured at flight level, so I believe the 190 mph wind estimate in Camille may be reasonable.


Figure 3. Appearance of the sea surface in winds of 130 knots (150 mph). Image credit: Wind Estimations from Aerial Observations of Sea Conditions (1954), by Charlie Neumann.


Figure 4. Radar image of Hurricane Camille taken at 22:15 UTC August 17, 1969, a few hours before landfall in Mississippi. At the time, Camille had the highest sustained winds of any Atlantic hurricane in history--190 mph.

The infamous hurricane hunter flight into Wilma during its rapid intensification
While I was at last week's conference, I had a conversation with Rich Henning, a flight meteorologist for NOAA's Hurricane Hunters, who served for many years as a Air Reconnaissance Weather Officer (ARWO) for the Air Force Hurricane Hunters. Rich told me the story of the Air Force Hurricane Hunter mission into Hurricane Wilma in the early morning hours of October 19, 2005, as Wilma entered its explosive deepening phase. The previous airplane, which had departed Category 1 Wilma six hours previously, flew through Wilma at an altitude of 5,000 feet. They measured a central pressure of 954 mb when they departed the eye at 23:10 UTC. The crew of the new plane assumed that the hurricane, though intensifying, was probably not a major hurricane, and decided that they would also go in at 5,000 feet. Winds outside the eyewall were less than hurricane force, so this seemed like a reasonable assumption. Once the airplane hit the eyewall, they realized their mistake. Flight level winds quickly rose to 186 mph, far in excess of Category 5 strength, and severe turbulence rocked the aircraft. The aircraft was keeping a constant pressure altitude to maintain their height above the ocean during the penetration, but the area of low pressure at Wilma's center was so intense that the airplane descended at over 1,000 feet per minute during the penetration in order to maintain a constant pressure altitude. By they time they punched into the incredibly tiny 4-mile wide eye, which had a central pressure of just 901 mb at 04:32 UTC, the plane was at a dangerously low altitude of 1,500 feet--not a good idea in a Category 5 hurricane. The pilot ordered an immediate climb, and the plane exited the other side of Wilma's eyewall at an altitude of 10,000 feet. They maintained this altitude for the remainder of the flight. During their next pass through the eye at 06:11 UTC, the diameter of the eye had shrunk to an incredibly tiny two miles--the smallest hurricane eye ever measured. During their third and final pass through the eye at 0801 UTC, a dropsonde found a central pressure of 882 mb--the lowest pressure ever observed in an Atlantic hurricane. In the span of just 24 hours, Wilma had intensified from a 70 mph tropical storm to a 175 mph category 5 hurricane--an unprecedented event for an Atlantic hurricane. Since the pressure was still falling, it is likely that Wilma became even stronger after the mission departed.

I'll have a new post by Tuesday at the latest.

Jeff Masters

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1931. Thrawst
12:47 PM GMT on May 01, 2012
One does not simply get this much rain in April...
Member Since: July 18, 2010 Posts: 50 Comments: 1908
1930. WxGeekVA
12:47 PM GMT on May 01, 2012
NEW BLOG
Member Since: September 3, 2011 Posts: 13 Comments: 3477
1929. gordydunnot
12:39 PM GMT on May 01, 2012
Looking at the RGB in motion this morning at the NHC. The surface low that moved from the Keys to the central Gulf looks interesting.
Member Since: August 18, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 3113
1928. washingtonian115
12:28 PM GMT on May 01, 2012
Hurricane season is the season for you and me!!.Hurricane season is the season positively!!!!.
Member Since: August 14, 2010 Posts: 10 Comments: 17492
1927. AussieStorm
12:12 PM GMT on May 01, 2012
Quoting WxGeekVA:
Good morning everyone. And great news! I've determined that there is 30 days, 16 hours, 23 minutes and 13 seconds until Hurricane Season!!! In other words, one month to go until GAMETIME!!!

29 days 1hr 48mins to go here. lol
Member Since: September 30, 2007 Posts: 9 Comments: 15962
1926. weatherh98
12:12 PM GMT on May 01, 2012
Good morning, wow do we have a final tally on storm reports?
Member Since: June 17, 2011 Posts: 11 Comments: 6539
1925. jamesrainier
12:11 PM GMT on May 01, 2012



Member Since: June 1, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 175
1924. jamesrainier
12:09 PM GMT on May 01, 2012



larger image http://synoptic.envsci.rutgers.edu/site/radimg/an im_scentrc.gif
Member Since: June 1, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 175
1923. WxGeekVA
11:37 AM GMT on May 01, 2012
Good morning everyone. And great news! I've determined that there is 30 days, 16 hours, 23 minutes and 13 seconds until Hurricane Season!!! In other words, one month to go until GAMETIME!!!
Member Since: September 3, 2011 Posts: 13 Comments: 3477
1922. WxLogic
11:29 AM GMT on May 01, 2012
Hopefully we can get an early start on the rainy season soon with all the moisture being injected into the W Carib. and GOM.



Fronts should start having a hard time moving past CFL/SFL this month.
Member Since: August 14, 2008 Posts: 4 Comments: 5032
1921. Tropicsweatherpr
11:10 AM GMT on May 01, 2012
Good morning. A rather rainy period starting today is expected in the Eastern Caribbean islands.

.DISCUSSION...GIVEN FLATTENING MID TO UPPER LEVEL RIDGE AND
ENCROACHING WESTERLIES FOR THE NEXT COUPLE OF DAYS...EXPECT
CONDITIONS TO GRADUALLY BECOME MORE ACTIVE. FOR TODAY...MOISTURE
IS EXPECTED TO BE SOMEWHAT LIMITED AND ALTHOUGH THERE WILL BE SOME
CLOUDINESS...SCATTERED SHOWERS AND POSSIBLY AN ISOLATED
THUNDERSTORM OR TWO...TODAY MAY END UP BEING THE BEST WEATHER DAY
OF THE NEXT 5 TO 7 DAYS. FOR TONIGHT AND WEDNESDAY...AN IMPRESSIVE
SURGE OF MOISTURE WILL ENCOMPASS THE FA FROM THE EAST SOUTHEAST...
WITH VERY GOOD 850MB-700MB THETA E ADVECTION. EXPECT A GOOD DEAL
OF CLOUDINESS...SHOWERS AND A COUPLE OF THUNDERSTORMS DURING THIS
TIME...AS LOCAL EFFECTS AND WESTERLY VENTILATION COMBINE WITH
DEEPENING MOISTURE.

THIS MOISTURE AND INCREASING INSTABILITY IS NOW FORECAST BY THE
LATEST MODEL DATA...TO GENERALLY LINGER ACROSS THE LOCAL AREA FROM
WEDNESDAY NIGHT AND THURSDAY THROUGH FRIDAY...WITH POSSIBLY SOME
SLIGHT MOISTURE REDUCTION SATURDAY...FOLLOWED BY AN INCREASE AGAIN
FOR SUNDAY AND MONDAY. AS AFOREMENTIONED SIGNIFICANT TROUGHINESS
GRADUALLY DIGS AND ALIGNS TO THE WEST THROUGH NORTHWEST OF THE
LOCAL AREA DURING THIS TIME...MOISTURE AND INSTABILITY STUCK
ACROSS THE FA WILL SPELL TROUBLE...AS LOCAL EFFECTS COMBINE WITH
THIS MOIST AND UNSTABLE AIR MASS AND INCREASINGLY FAVORABLE
DYNAMICS...TO PRODUCE A RATHER ACTIVE PATTERN...WITH SEVERAL
ROUNDS OF CLOUDINESS...SHOWERS AND A FEW THUNDERSTORMS EXPECTED.
IT IS TOO EARLY TO BE CONFIDENT...BUT THIS PATTERN EVOLUTION WILL
BE MONITORED CLOSELY...AS PREVIOUS SCENARIOS LIKE THIS HAVE
RESULTED IN AREAS OF SIGNIFICANT RAINFALL AND SOME FLOODING ACROSS
PARTS OF THE LOCAL ISLANDS. STAY TUNED.
Member Since: April 29, 2009 Posts: 75 Comments: 14600
1920. MAweatherboy1
10:43 AM GMT on May 01, 2012
Morning everyone... Pretty crazy night last night, I don't think anyone anticipated such an event... We should see some more today, and I wouldn't be surprised if the SPC added a moderate risk area

Member Since: February 11, 2012 Posts: 84 Comments: 7969
1919. WxLogic
10:42 AM GMT on May 01, 2012
Good Morning...

Reminder on changes happening today. Since CWD (Critical Weather Day) is not in effect today, then the NCEP replacement of RUC for RAP would be underway and should take effect by 12Z (in about 1:18hr).

Link
Member Since: August 14, 2008 Posts: 4 Comments: 5032
1918. LargoFl
10:41 AM GMT on May 01, 2012
Member Since: August 6, 2011 Posts: 4 Comments: 41172
1917. LargoFl
10:38 AM GMT on May 01, 2012
Good Morning folks, dry as a bone here still, looks like the Miami moisture isnt coming our way..so back to normal....
Member Since: August 6, 2011 Posts: 4 Comments: 41172
1916. BahaHurican
10:24 AM GMT on May 01, 2012
Morning all.

More rain again here over night. Looks like another inch or so added to the totals. I will check the met office again later this a.m. to see how much we've added.

Hopefully today will be the last day of this rainy scenario, which is very much out of the norm for this time of year. I don't remember the last time we had so many rainy days in April - or in early May, for that matter.

Makes me wonder what else interesting will happen as we head into the rainy season.
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 22599
1915. jamesrainier
8:43 AM GMT on May 01, 2012






http://www.spc.noaa.gov/products/watch/ww0216.htm l
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1914. BahaHurican
7:18 AM GMT on May 01, 2012
Here comes the rain again....

Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 22599
1913. jamesrainier
7:15 AM GMT on May 01, 2012
Member Since: June 1, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 175
1912. jamesrainier
7:07 AM GMT on May 01, 2012



larger image http://synoptic.envsci.rutgers.edu/site/radimg/an im_nrc.gif
Member Since: June 1, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 175
1911. Tribucanes
4:51 AM GMT on May 01, 2012
Looks like this cell is going to break free and head towards Tulsa as a giant super-cell. Could this actually strengthen then?
Member Since: April 18, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 2437
1910. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
4:50 AM GMT on May 01, 2012
Quoting Skyepony:


There it is, Wikipedia...second to last sentence under history.
i see ya found it
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 175 Comments: 54881
1909. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
4:49 AM GMT on May 01, 2012
removed
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 175 Comments: 54881
1908. Tribucanes
4:42 AM GMT on May 01, 2012
would think this would be particularly dangerous chasing these storms at least with that wording.
Member Since: April 18, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 2437
1907. Tribucanes
4:42 AM GMT on May 01, 2012
Ya that's good that being said NOAA has upped the wording now to lots of ! and rapidly anywhere wording. Thanks for the update. For both those two cells its now worded could form rapidly anywhere in the line!
Member Since: April 18, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 2437
1906. Skyepony (Mod)
4:37 AM GMT on May 01, 2012
Quoting Tribucanes:
conditions looking like they might warrant an upgrade tomorrow too. Just on radar that looks very strong, any idea the strength of it?


Hard to say with the durations mostly being so short. At brief moments we've had some really strong looking signatures..but conditions haven't been supporting the long tracking 4s & 5s.
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 197 Comments: 38787
1905. Tribucanes
4:35 AM GMT on May 01, 2012
good news is the fireballs, meteors, and strong winds didn't kill him so he was around for the earthquake.
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1904. Skyepony (Mod)
4:34 AM GMT on May 01, 2012
Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:
i think so have to check it out now


There it is, Wikipedia...second to last sentence under history.
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 197 Comments: 38787
1903. Tribucanes
4:33 AM GMT on May 01, 2012
conditions looking like they might warrant an upgrade tomorrow too. Just on radar that looks very strong, any idea the strength of it?
Member Since: April 18, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 2437
1902. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
4:30 AM GMT on May 01, 2012
Quoting Skyepony:


Isn't there some urban legend that earthquakes are many times preceded by strong winds, fireballs, and meteors?
i think so have to check it out now
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 175 Comments: 54881
1901. Skyepony (Mod)
4:29 AM GMT on May 01, 2012
Quoting Tribucanes:
Skyepone are you watching that cell chase live?


Yeah, going between the two. The one in North OK, headed at Waukomis has a tornado warning on it now.
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 197 Comments: 38787
1900. Skyepony (Mod)
4:25 AM GMT on May 01, 2012
Quoting KEEPEROFTHEGATE:


Isn't there some urban legend that earthquakes are many times preceded by strong winds, fireballs, and meteors?
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 197 Comments: 38787
1899. Tribucanes
4:23 AM GMT on May 01, 2012
Skyepone are you watching that cell chase live?
Member Since: April 18, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 2437
1898. sunlinepr
4:23 AM GMT on May 01, 2012
Caribbean nations warned to prepare for ‘giant’ tsunami
Posted on April 30, 2012



April 30, 2012 – CARIBBEAN – A leading expert at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) is urging the Caribbean’s 40 million people to be prepared for a tsunami, two years ahead of a planned early warning system for the region. Watson-Wright, assistant director-general and executive secretary of the UNESCO-Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, has agreed with other leading tsunami experts that it is a case of “when, not if” the region would be struck by the giant waves triggered by earthquakes and volcanic activity, Watson-Wright noted. “Lurking beneath the azure waters that wash up on countless coastal and island beaches and vacation spots is the potential for a devastating tsunami,” she said. In addition to the 40 million people living in the region, she said 22 million people visit the Caribbean annually, making the region “extremely vulnerable to the impacts of tsunamis.” Since 1498 there have been at least 94 tsunamis with run-ups reported in the Caribbean region, causing 4,652 deaths, Watson-Wright said. She said most of these tsunamis were associated with underwater, or what are called submarine earthquakes, although the Caribbean Sea region has all of the potential tsunami-generating sources, such as submarine earthquakes, sub-aerial or submarine landslides and volcano activity. Scientists and disaster management officials have said that models predict a tsunami wiping out vast areas in several island nations where most people live in around capitals and low-lying coastal areas. “Sound science-based tsunami inundation modeling has been performed for all of Puerto Rico and several localities in the French Antilles and Venezuela, which demonstrates real tsunami threats for this region,” the UNESCO expert said. –Jamaica Observer

Link
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1897. Skyepony (Mod)
4:23 AM GMT on May 01, 2012
Waukomis, OK maybe having a tornado dropping down on them.
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1896. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
4:22 AM GMT on May 01, 2012
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 175 Comments: 54881
1895. Tribucanes
4:18 AM GMT on May 01, 2012
wow brave souls chasing these. Glad that didn't drop five to ten minutes earlier. Mean looking.
Member Since: April 18, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 2437
1894. Skyepony (Mod)
4:08 AM GMT on May 01, 2012
The storm they were chasin weakened as three cells came together. Now looks like a tornado has dropped from the tail of that. May go south of Altus, may not. Chasers were a little north but turned around, driving away from it, after a less impressive looking cell..
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 197 Comments: 38787
1893. sunlinepr
4:04 AM GMT on May 01, 2012
Japanese artist Isao Hashimoto has created a beautiful, undeniably scary time-lapse map of the 2053 nuclear explosions which have taken place between 1945 and 1998, beginning with the Manhattan Project’s “Trinity” test near Los Alamos and concluding with Pakistan’s nuclear tests in May of 1998. This leaves out North Korea’s two alleged nuclear tests in this past decade (the legitimacy of both of which is not 100% clear).

Member Since: August 2, 2010 Posts: 21 Comments: 9874
1892. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
4:01 AM GMT on May 01, 2012
my new avatar for 2012 season

Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 175 Comments: 54881
1891. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
3:53 AM GMT on May 01, 2012
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 175 Comments: 54881
1890. ycd0108
3:43 AM GMT on May 01, 2012
#1888: your post made me pay attention. I may be closer to any event than folks in California. Just now there is a noticeble lack of normal birdsong. Hummm
We will see
Member Since: January 1, 2008 Posts: 182 Comments: 4664
1889. ClimateChange
3:39 AM GMT on May 01, 2012
Crazy weather all over the world. There's a bizarre retrograding low over western Europe. Probably a product of the globally-warmed atmosphere. Meteorologist Stu Ostro has done a good job documenting these patterns -- I hope he's taking notice of this one. The UK, which had been battling a severe drought, has been completely inundated with heavy rains. Meanwhile, central and eastern Europe are basking in a record heat wave that's on par with what hit the eastern & central US last month, as southerly winds pump up globally-warmed Saharan air. It was in the mid and upper 80s around Vienna today as people flocked poolside... lower Austria reached 90. Places with periods of record 200+ years flew past all-time record highs. Moscow and Prague had incredibly warm readings in the middle 80s.

The only reason I noticed this is because this morning I was checking out a new feature on the local news weather page called "Futurecast" which models sky and precipitation conditions. It actually modeled the weather for the entire globe and I was playing around with it. Got to Europe and saw this bizarre spiral that looked like the Great Red Spot on Jupiter. I'm like what the heck is that? So I did a news search to see what was going on and sure enough, it's some more climate craziness.
Member Since: September 8, 2011 Posts: 8 Comments: 245
1888. FMTXWMAN
3:36 AM GMT on May 01, 2012
Anyone in the southern california area experiencing any weirdness with their pets? Had a guy tell us all his animals started freaking out along with some neighbors pets. Have to wonder if an earthquake is coming.
Member Since: May 1, 2007 Posts: 2 Comments: 70
1887. Skyepony (Mod)
3:30 AM GMT on May 01, 2012
They're going to check out the lightning fire.
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 197 Comments: 38787
1886. Skyepony (Mod)
3:28 AM GMT on May 01, 2012
Sounds like people are fleeing the town there. They are wondering why the sirens aren't going off.
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 197 Comments: 38787
1885. PedleyCA
3:27 AM GMT on May 01, 2012
Good Night All, Stay Safe, Sleep Well.
Member Since: February 29, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 6026
1884. Skyepony (Mod)
3:25 AM GMT on May 01, 2012
This is eerie these guys chasin in the dark. It looked big..
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 197 Comments: 38787
1883. sunlinepr
3:22 AM GMT on May 01, 2012

Several powerlines on Highway 11, about three and half miles east of Medford, are reportedly down at this point, blocking the highway.



Link

MEDFORD, Oklahoma -

A tornado touched down near Medford, Oklahoma, Monday night and caused severe damage in the area.

At about 9:20 p.m. Monday, a tornado touched down near Medford. News 9 Storm Tracker Val Castor reports seeing major damage about one mile west of Medford. One home and several barns were damaged.

Several power poles on Highway 11, about three and half miles east of Medford, are reportedly down at this point, blocking the highway.

No damage have been reported in the city of Medford. There is no power in the Medford area at this time.
Member Since: August 2, 2010 Posts: 21 Comments: 9874
1882. Skyepony (Mod)
3:18 AM GMT on May 01, 2012
Quoting trHUrrIXC5MMX:

99mb Low?

Greenland is getting the whip!!!


DOOM!!!
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 197 Comments: 38787
1881. Skyepony (Mod)
3:17 AM GMT on May 01, 2012
Watching JoeMiller. They were in hail. Now occasional cloud to ground lightning.
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 197 Comments: 38787

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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.

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