Hurricane Rita Blog

Hurricane Rita video diary and photo blog from Key West FL and Port Arthur TX.

I have updated my Hurricane Rita blog page to cover everything in regards to my Hurricane Rita intercept from both locations.

09/19/2005 A.M. - Currently En Route to Key West Florida to intercept Hurricane Rita.

Right now Rita is a tropical storm that is heading for the Florida Keys and is expected to become a hurricane later this evening or tomorrow.

Hurricane Rita Photography

09/19/2005 2:00 p.m. - I got into Key West the day before Hurricane Rita since to document the storm.  Rita was still a tropical storm but the airlines were not letting anyone in unless they lived in the Keys or if they were with the media.

Once on the ground and getting all of my stuff in order, I went out and did some pre storm video and photographs to check out the area for locations to shoot and to take shelter.

As soon as the plane landed I was out shooting video of people getting ready on Duval Street in Key West.


09/19/2005 8:00 p.m. - Key West, FL is as ready as they will ever get with most of the population out of the area, EMS is on standby and the media along with the hold outs are the only ones left in town. Hurricane Rita is picking up strength just like Katrina did as it moved close to Florida. This storm could be a Cat 2 by this time tomorrow and hitting or already moving off shore from Key West, FL with in 24 hours.

The National Hurricane Center has the Center of Rita hitting just south of Key West. This should be an interesting hurricane intercept since I'm on an Island for the most part.

Hurricane Rita Photography

It is less then 24 hours from Hurricane Rita and those who stayed, got a picture perfect sunset.  Below is the second half of the Pre Hurricane Rita coverage from Key West, FL. 


09/20/2005 8:00 a.m. - After a great nights sleep, it was time to get to work.  This is the first time I have ever got a great nights sleep before a hurricane.  The only thing I'm missing is fresh coffee and this would be a perfect chase.  

Right now I'm just getting the forecast updates and the latest

NHC forecasts

still shows Rita as a very strong Tropical Storm.  Not expecting a direct hit but it will still be a hurricane just off shore with hurricane wind gusts and storm surge.

It is so close to being called Hurricane Rita right now but the Hurricane Hunters are on their way to the storm to verify the strength off the storm. 


09/20/2005 11:00 a.m. - Tropical Storm Rita has become Hurricane Rita this morning while I was out shooting video in Key West Florida. With winds of 85 MPH, the storm will pass over or near Key West Florida this afternoon.

Hurricane Rita Forecast Track

I had a fun drive to Key West, FL my friends place that I stayed at to document Tropical Storm Rita as it became Hurricane Rita.  I interviewed the Mayor of Key West and the police chief along with documenting the some last minute board up work.   The winds are starting to pick up here in Key West.


Here is the footage I shot this morning with the underwater camera setup.


9/21/2005 blog update, yesterday was a insane busy day.  I just made it home to Burnsville, MN and have yet to get any sleep but need to write about what happened yesterday. 

I was out shooting more video after Rita was upgraded to a hurricane.  I got a phone call from the desk at The Weather Channel and it was Eileen calling to ask me if their live crew could use my camera.   I was pretty much asking WTF since the last I heard was that their crew was going to stay in over 90 miles away in Key Largo, FL.

Turns out at the last minute someone decided it would be cool to head down to Key West, FL.  The cameraman that they contracted to shoot the live footage for them was not happy, ok he was pretty pissed off because he didn't want to go into a hurricane with his gear and because someone kept the air conditioner on in the car ride down from Key Largo.  The air conditioner chilled his camera gear down in the two hour ride down to about 68F.  Why is that a problem?  When cold camera gear is brought out into hot and humid weather, it fogs the camera lenses up along with having water condense on electronic parts.   So they fried his only camera he brought with and needed to use one of mine. 

Lucky for them I brought two professional cameras with me so I was able to let them use my PD-170 for the day to do their live shots. 

After I took care of the TWC crew, I was back out shooting.  I drove over to Caroline Street and William Street, I started to shoot some cool footage outside of B.O.'s Fish Wagon.  The winds were ripping off the tin roof the place and I was getting some great footage when the people that lived across the street saw me.  They told me to come on into their home and come upstairs to get some better footage from their deck overlooking the street.

Wow what a difference that made to get the shot from above of the tin roof being tore up by the wind.  I hung out with them for a while and then they gave me another story idea.  They just got a call from a friend at the marina where they have their boat and it was starting to break lose.  So I followed them over to the marina behind the taxi company on the east side of Key West and I got some great footage of the owner of the boat working to secure the ropes on his boat in the high winds and rough seas.

After getting some great video at the marina, I was back to find more shots of the high winds and storm surge since this was about as bad as it was going to get with the eye of Hurricane Rita passing between Key West and Cuba.   The latest 2:00 p.m. forecast from NHC for Hurricane Rita said that the center of the eye of Hurricane Rita was just 50 miles south of Key West.  The best news for a chaser was: 


Since the sunset was at 7:20 p.m. today, I only had a few more hours to make the most of the storm before it was over and I had to drive to Miami, FL for a 7am flight back to Minneapolis, MN and get ready for the next second landfall for Hurricane Rita.

It was off to the southern most point to check out the big waves from Rita hitting the other side of the island.  I went back to North Roosevelt Boulevard and shot some great footage of the palm trees blowing in the winds and through the heart of Key West before making it to the southern most point. 


The waves and the storm surge at the southern most point were not too bad.  The fun part was the waves crashing up against the sea wall.  A couple of brave guys thought it would be fun to stand on the sea wall as the waves crashed over them.  This was when I got a little too close and my still camera died as I got hit with a wave of salt water.

After destroring my still camera with salt water, I headed northeast on A1A or South Roosevelt Blvd. until I got to the White Street Pier.  I shot a lot of footage from this area with the palm trees blowing in the winds and people checking out the damage in the middle of the hurricane.  I did get some footage of the Dennis Pharmacy on Simonton Street and the sign blowing in the wind above it before moving north to try and find Chris Collura.   Once back on A1A it was just more palm trees blowing in the wind. The time now was 3:04 p.m.

It didn't take long to find Chris, just look for the surge and his car with the weather lab was in the middle of it. 


As I worked my way up A1A to the north of Chris, I spotted some people trying put their truck bed liner back in the back of their pickup truck.  The wind ripped it out of the truck bed.  After that, it was back to checking out the crazy storm surge was over A1A and traffic driving through it.

I went back over to the north side of the island again and to check out some of the damage in the residential area and it was not too bad.  The worst of the winds and storm surge were only along the Atlantic side of the island along the coast.  There was some downed tree limbs and phone lines but that was about it and nothing really worth getting footage off so I went back to the coast where the surge was now getting worse.


The surge was really starting to impact the area along A1A near the White Street Pier.  I put the camera back in the underwater setup and started filming as much as I could.  It was already after 5:00 p.m. and the sun would set soon so I only had about an hour left to shoot as much footage as I could. 

The lastest forecast from the NHC showed:


So with my camera equipment starting to fail due to the salt water spray covering the video camera and the still camera now dead due to salt water, this was going to be my last spot before I stopped filming for the night and went back to recover my other camera from the TWC crew. 

I stayed here at the White Street Pier for about another half hour and got footage of the large waves crashing up against the shore line. 


I kepton rolling footage from the pier since this was the best I was going to see with the limited day light left.  The surge was about a foot deep now on A1A and I stayed until I pretty much got sick of being smashed by the waves.  At one point I was getting footage of the huge waves when one crashed up against me, picked me up and slammed me on the ground.  


With the sun light fading fast, I went back over to the TWC crew and waited for them to finish up using my other camera and then head back to north to make it to Miami, FL if the roads were open. 

When I was about to head out, the other cameraman asked me if I could give him a ride back to his car in Key Largo, FL where they were filming from before.  He was pretty pissed off because it turned out that the ride down with the air conditioner on destroyed a $20,000.00 camera lens.

I did make it back to Miami, FL with plenty of time to spare this morning.  Once again the airline called me and told me that they would not be able to fly me out of Key West, FL for my morning flight back home to Minneapolis, MN and said that it could be days before they could fly me home.  I told the nice lady that called me if she could just book me on the first flight out of Miami, FL.  She was so happy to learn that I was not stuck in Key West that I actually got the flight switched for free and an upgrade but I had to stop in Chicago and switch planes.  It did not matter much since I slept all the way back home with a break in the middle in Chicago.

Here are the photographs from Hurricane Rita in Key West before the camera died. I killed the Sony Cyber Shot at the southern most point.

If your looking to purchase or license the photographs I took during the hurricane Rita chases in Florida and Texas, visit my Hurricane Rita Photo Gallery on Smugmug.

Hurricane Rita Photography From Key West FloridaHurricane Rita Photography From Key West Florida

Hurricane Rita Photography From Key West FloridaHurricane Rita Photography From Key West FloridaHurricane Rita Photography From Key West Florida

The next day I was off and running shooting a ton of footage in Key West and shooting a ton of photographs, until my camera died.

Hurricane Rita Photography From Key West FloridaHurricane Rita Photography From Key West FloridaHurricane Rita Photography From Key West Florida

Only in Key West will you have people hanging out at the docks in the middle of a Hurricane and getting wasted. The guy on the bike was really mad at me taking his picture and made me think he was wanted by the law for something. If you don't want to be on camera, don't go out and screw around in the middle of a Hurricane.

Hurricane Rita Photography From Key West FloridaHurricane Rita Photography From Key West Florida

Hurricane Rita Photography From Key West FloridaHurricane Rita Photography From Key West Florida

Hurricane Rita Photography From Key West FloridaHurricane Rita Photography From Key West FloridaHurricane Rita Photography From Key West Florida

Hurricane Rita Photography From Key West FloridaHurricane Rita Photography From Key West FloridaHurricane Rita Photography From Key West FloridaHurricane Rita Photography From Key West Florida

Hurricane Rita Photography From Key West FloridaHurricane Rita Photography From Key West FloridaHurricane Rita Photography From Key West Florida

And then I killed the Sony Cyber Shot... While I took these photograph's, salt water kept getting on me and the camera. Finally the camera just died and it was all over. The Memory cards still work great but the camera is toast!

Hurricane Rita Photography From Key West FloridaHurricane Rita Photography From Key West FloridaHurricane Rita Photography From Key West Florida

Hurricane Rita Photography From Key West FloridaHurricane Rita Photography From Key West Florida

The last two images is what will happen when you get salt water in your digital camera.

Hurricane Rita Photography From Key West FloridaHurricane Rita Photography From Key West Florida


09/21/2005 -  11:00 p.m. Recap, today I'm back in Minneapolis, MN. Huh? How the hell did I get from Key West Florida, to Minneapolis, MN today?  Simple, I drove all night long to Miami and got on the Miami leg of the flight back home. I needed to go home and get some replacement camera equipment since I destroyed a Sony VX 2100 video camera and the Sony Cyber Shot.

I just slept on the airplane and made it back in time to chase the storm in Anoka County MN. But that is another story...

Rita grew today and just as I thought it grew just like Katrina. Rita is now a Cat 5 with maximum sustained winds of 175 MPH. This time the storm is heading towards Houston / Galveston and Houston and Galveston Texas area could be destroyed like New Orleans was just weeks ago.   Maybe it will weaken prior to landfall and move further to the north and miss the Houston / Galveston area, to early to tell. 

One thing is for sure, it does not look like I'm going to make it to Rory's wedding on Friday.

The latest NHC forecast says: 


One must wonder what does a Category Five Hurricane have to do with Rory's wedding?  When Rory told me that he was getting married back in March, I told him thank you because now I know when the Cat 5 hurricane will be coming on shore.   It's a chaser thing... because any time you plan on doing something like a wedding or reunion, some big weather always happens.


Hurricane Rita, Part Two, Port Arthur, Texas

9/24/2005 - Hurricane Rita video blog from Port Arthur Texas.

When I first started off on the Hurricane Rita intercept in Texas, I knew I was blowing off a good friends wedding to see a historic storm.  I never thought it would have been such a life changing experience but what happened to me during the Hurricane Rita intercept in Texas was nothing short of a miracle. 

I have to thank the lord above for saving me on this hurricane intercept.  I thought I was going to die or live but have all of my gear destroyed along with the SUV that I rented. 

After I made it into Houston, TX and got to my hotel, I went out to intercept Hurricane Rita in my target which was the city of Port Arthur, TX.  On my way to Port Arthur, TX, I thought it would be cool to drive down to High Island and check out the big waves at the Gulf of Mexico.  The GPS said that Highway 87 went from High Island, TX to Port Arthur, TX so it would be a no brainier to go and check it out. 

Well unknown to me, Highway 87 was closed and had been closed since 1990…  Yes 1990 but it still shows up on the GPS as a road. 

I drive down highway 124 to the beach and stop as the road turns to the northeast on highway 87 to get some shots of the beach and the large waves.  I parked on what I thought was a parking lot and asphalt and it should be good to get some shots of the waves with the headlights and spot lights.   The waves and surge were ok, but nothing like I was expecting and it was very dark. 

I parked on what was solid ground with a road under the truck. After about 5 minutes of shooting video and dealing with poor light conditions with only a the head lights and spot light, I went to leave the area to go to Port Arthur and meet up with friends up to intercept the hurricane.

As I went to leave, the truck would not move. Sand got under the truck and now what I thought was solid ground started to sink. After about 15 minutes of trying to dig out the sand and back out and rock the truck as the waves were moving closer to me, I was stuck and thought I was going to die. I tried 4x4 hi and 4x4 low and nothing. Finally I said, "I'm Sorry Lord, Please Help Me". I sat and I thought for a minute about what I was going to do since I had no options except to pray. I then put the truck back in 4x4 Low and put it in reverse and said "Please Lord" and the truck backed out onto solid ground and I was out of there.

It was almost as if for a moment the hurricane all around me stopped and the truck was lifted out of the sand and pulled backwards to an area of solid ground where I could drive back onto Highway 124 and go back to the north. 

When my friends at church who have not seen me in months thanks to all of the storms I have been chasing talk about being saved, that is what it means to me to be saved. Thank You Jesus, you saved me once again. 

And now, the rest of my story from Hurricane Rita in Texas.

And now, the rest of my story from Hurricane Rita in Texas.

Now being sleep deprived is nothing new for me and pulling 24 to 36 hour days is almost as commonplace for me as most people having a normal day where they are up for 16 hours and sleep for eight.  I am able to get by with short naps and lots of caffeine.  

As soon as I got off the plane and into the rental SUV, I knew I was in for a crazy day.  I did not get any sleep the night before and only a couple of hours of sleep on the flight into Dallas, TX.  I had to fly into Dallas, TX and drive down to Houston, TX to intercept Hurricane Rita since I was not able to get a flight into Houston, TX or a rental SUV in Houston, TX the day before the storm. 

So being sleep deprived and running on adrenaline along with a lot of high caffeine soda, I was now planning to stay up for the next 24 hours with a drive from Dallas to Houston and then a strong hurricane all night long before I could rest my head and think about going home.

As soon as I got out of the car rental yard I knew I was going to have some problems.  The alternator on the SUV died and I was wondering if it was a sign to not go to the coast and intercept Rita.  After another half hour for the rental car company tracking down another SUV, I was finally off and running.    The first stop was on the south side of Dallas, TX to fill up the gas cans that I brought with me.  It cost me a lot for my plane ticket and a lot more for the boxes of hurricane supplies I brought with me that included four brand new red fuel cans.  You should have seen the look on the faces of the TSA screeners when I brought them the boxes to search, it was priceless. 

After filling up the gas cans with fuel to insure that I had at least two tanks of gas to get me down to the coast and back, I was now driving to Houston.  I made it just to the south of the Dallas metro area until the Contraflow stopped me from going any further on the interstate.  My plan was to just take Highway 75 south and get into the Houston area a few hours before the hurricane force winds started to hit the area so I would have time to reposition to intercept the eye of the hurricane. 

I was lucky that at about the half way point I was able to find a gas station / super market that had fuel and was pretty well stocked up for me to buy additional food, water, and soft drinks to keep me awake.  Oh and Coffee, I did get several large cups of coffee to go.  Then it was back on my journey into history to intercept Hurricane Rita for a second time in a week. 


When I got to Madisonville, TX, the hurricane effects from Rita started to become real to me.  I went from being hella tired and running on sugar and caffeine to running on adrenaline when I saw the line of people waiting to get fuel.

I stopped and shot video the long lines of people waiting for fuel.  I talked with a few people and everyone said they have been waiting in line for several hours just to try and get enough fuel to make it to Dallas, TX.

I told some people that I was able to get gas about 20 miles up the road with no problem and now waiting.  Their problem was they were already almost empty and did not want to risk driving another mile to get gas, let alone 20 miles or more.


After stopping to check out the lines of people waiting for fuel in Madisonville, TX, I kept heading south on 75 towards Huntsville, TX where I found several people just stranded along the side of the road and a huge line of cars that was at least a half mile long waiting for fuel.


The line of cars went from Eastham Drive to Young Street on Highway 75, which is a half mile in distance according to my GPS and the trucks trip meter.  A woman that lived just down the street from the gas station said she has never seen that many cars on the road and that this was just historic.


After I documented the insane line for fuel, I found that I was able to get on Interstate 45 and drive southbound to Houston, TX.  This saved me a ton of time now and I was able to get to my hotel and check in about an hour ahead of schedule and even top off the gas tank before heading east to Port Arthur, TX.

Since Hurricane Rita made her Texas landfall during the overnight hours, shooting video was going to be much harder.  I was going to need to find areas that still had the street lights on to see anything. 

The latest forecast from NHC said:


Well at least I do not have to ride out a Cat 5 hurricane at night but it will still be a strong Cat 3 hurricane by myself, with sleep depravation and it is still at night.  I figured I would just be mobile for the whole storm and be like a moth to a light.  If I saw an area that still had power, I would head towards it to be able to see what was happening. 

What happend next was just amazing.  While setting up to film some standard B-Roll of gas station canopy that still had the lights on, I saw a very bright flash in the sky that was pretty close to me. 


The power flashes went on for a few mintues and the footage I shot made all the lack of sleep, missing Rory's wedding and risking my life worth it. 

Since the big story about Hurricane Rita was its impact on the areas oil refineries.  I shot a lot of footage of some of the refineries while looking for areas that still had the lights on around the city.  As the winds picked up, the power would fail and the lights would turn off.  I managed to find a spot where the lights would turn off and then come back on for about 10 minutes.  It made for some interesting footage until I realized that any minute now the power could go out but the live power lines could land in the water next to me. 

From this point until the all the power was lost in the city, I just drove around in the hurricane force winds to find various shots of stuff getting destroyed in the winds.


Until the eye of the storm made landfall, my new home was in the truck in whiteout conditions in the middle of a Category Three Hurricane.  

I was confined to the area from Woodworth, Blvd to Savannah, Ave and to Gulfway Drive and Thomas Blvd.  The whiteout conditions at night made it impossible to move around in the hurricane.   If I needed to find any shelter, I was out of luck.





The time now was just after 2:00 a.m. and I was about as stressed out as I could take it.  First getting stuck on the beach and now ridding out a Category Three hurricane all alone at night in a town I had never even heard about until the day before.  If I had nine lives I think I used up eight of them by this point in my life after Katrina last month and now Rita.

The latest forecast from NHC said:


The radar for Lake Charles, LA weather service office was off line but the Houston radar out of the NWS office in Houston showed the back side of the storm was pretty much gone.  Rita went from a Cat 5 the day before to a Cat 3 and now it sucked in a lot of dry air and it looked like it was going to be over before sunrise.

The storm still packed a mean punch but the heavy rain and additional flooding that I was worried about was not going to be a factor.  I was going to be able to go home in a few days and not be trapped here because of the flooding that could have happened.

From this point on, I was focused on documenting as much of the aftermath as I could before the sunrise.  The down trees and busted up power grid made it almost impossible to drive around. 

After running my struck all night, the gas was down to a half a tank now and the winds have really died down in the eye.  This was when I thought it would be a great idea to top off my gas tank.  This was when I heard someone yelling for help.  I thought to myself “oh crap, now what because there is no EMS around for 50 miles because everyone was evacuated for the hurricane.”  I found where the voices were coming from and it was a house next to where I stopped to fill up. 


The people yelling for help turned out to be a couple that looked like they have been through hell.  Thinking back to the man that I left on the street in the middle of Katrina in New Orleans when I did not have any room to help him out, I knew I had to do something to help the man and women out.   What was the difference between Katrina and Rita that made me want to help them out?  Simple, I had a much bigger truck which meant this time I did have a lot of room in the back seat. 

What happened next can only be described as a comedy of errors.  Nothing bad happened, it just seems funny to me now looking back at what happened. 


I found out the couple was in good health considering they just spent the night outside in the middle of Hurricane Rita.  I thought maybe their roof blew off or their home was flooded.  I wanted to know what happened to them and wanted to get their story.  Well, when I found out their story, I knew I was not dealing with rocket scientists. 

It turns out that the couple that was yelling for help and asked me to get them to a police station or a hospital; they stayed outside in the middle of Hurricane Rita because they got locked out of the mans sisters home, where they were staying because she evacuated without them.  I asked why they didn’t evacuate with her or the free public evacuation setup that was happening the day before.  Um yeah, they had no answer.  Like I said, I was not dealing with rocket scientists but more like crack heads.

I still felt sorry for them and told them I would drive them to the police station in downtown or the hospital.  I figured that the worst that could happen is I have a tour guide from someone that knows the city and an extra pair of eye for flying debris.

With the truck now filled up with 12 more additional gallons of gas, I left my mark just like the Space Shuttle and left the empty fuel cans behind.  I figured this place was a mess and worst case, someone finds trash but the best case, someone finds two brand new empty fuel cans to use while rebuilding their city.  Ether way it meant that I did not have the fuel cans taking up space in the back of the truck so I had more room for my new tour guides of Port Arthur, TX.

We drove around for a while to find some roads that were not blocked by debris or flooding.  When we got to the police station in downtown Port Arthur, TX, it was closed, along with being damaged by the Cat 3 hurricane winds of Hurricane Rita. 


Now I thought to myself, Oh great now what am I going to do with the couple.  So I called 911 and asked the person on the other end of the line if there were any shelters in the area.  The response I got was pretty much asking me what the hell I was doing in Port Arthur since it was under an evacuation order.

I told the 911 operator who I was and that I was with the media covering the storm and I was fine but the couple needed to find some shelter.  That’s when I was told the nearest shelter was pretty much all the way to Huntsville, TX.  Yes I felt bad for the couple but their was no way in hell I was going to drive them 100 miles or more to Huntsville, TX just so they could take shelter. 

This was when I decided I would drive them back to their home, correction, their sisters house and help them get in.  I had always wanted to kick a front door in and I had on my combat boots.  So we drove back across town to the house and that’s when I almost lost it seeing how moronic this couple was.  Right there in the front window of the home was a window air conditioning unit. 

I was not going to fulfill my dream of kicking in a front door but what I did next really pissed off the woman because she wondered why her boyfriend did not think to push in the window AC unit until it landed on the floor and then get into the house through the window.  As soon as I started pushing on the AC unit the guy saw that I was just going to shove it in and open the window.  He helped me push in the AC unit but made sure it was set down gently so his sister would not get pissed off.  Once the AC unit was on the floor, he jumped up through the window and went in and opened the front door for his girlfriend.  Oh you should have heard her yell at him as I walked back to my truck.

After dropping off the rocket scientist, I actually did run into some scientist while on my way back to highway 73 to head back to Houston, TX.  I found the DOW radar truck out in the back side of the hurricane.