- Forecasters, storm chasers and hurricane hunters were shocked by the ferocity of Hurricane Ian.
- They were caught in the flood waters, buffeted by the winds and carried away by the force of the storm.
- Their video of the storm’s landfall in Florida shows what hit them.
Matthew Cappucci was on guard when floodwaters began rising on both sides of the road he was driving near Englewood, Florida, on Wednesday.
The meteorologist felt prepared for Hurricane Ian. He had been through other cyclones. He had shaped the storm surge and rainfall in advance. So he figured he and his friend Andrew would be out of the flood zone when they ventured into the storm’s land in Florida.
But for a terrifying split second, he worried that the storm surge was rushing around him—several feet of ocean water, often the most dangerous part of a hurricane. But that was highly unlikely. It was well outside the overflow zone.
This was rainwater.
WARNING: The audio in many of the videos below is very loud.
—MyRadar Weather (@MyRadarWX) September 30, 2022
“That big freshwater flood definitely caught me off guard,” Cappucci told Insider.
“It’s so unsettling to look left, right and realize your whole road is surrounded by water in all directions,” he added. “It’s hard not to freak out.”
—MyRadar Weather (@MyRadarWX) September 30, 2022
The couple had planned to drive back to their hotel but were forced to turn back. That’s when they punctured two tires driving over a piece of debris. They scrambled to higher ground and crashed into a nearby apartment building for the night.
Other forecasters and hurricane hunters embedded with Hurricane Ian shared similar surprise at some of the storm’s more extreme features.
Scientists need to conduct further research to learn whether climate change has made any individual storm more likely or more extreme. But overall, because tropical cyclones feed on warm air and water, climate change is making them stronger, wetter and even slower to progress from one region to another. This ultimately makes them more damaging and deadly.
Rising ocean temperatures help hurricanes build strength quickly, as Hurricane Ian did in the Gulf of Mexico. Warm air holds more moisture, which means storms can bring more precipitation. Sea-level rise can also push storm waters higher than they would otherwise be.
Cappucci said he couldn’t help but think about those effects as the waters rose around him.
Meanwhile, other people documenting Hurricane Ian struggled with winds or a flood of ocean water pushing inland.
Seeing houses drifting away was ‘terrifying’
“The storm surge was incredible,” Max Olson, a storm chaser who has been through 13 hurricanes, told Insider via email.
He deployed detectors in different locations to capture the storm surge without anyone there to operate the camera. One of these researchers captured a house being uprooted and swept away by the flood waters. He later learned that there were people inside that house. According Olsonthey survived after grabbing trees and floating to other houses.
“It’s also the scariest video I’ve shot as it shows multiple houses being swept away,” Olson said — “something I’ve had a hard time processing in the last 24 hours.”
Flying through the eye involved “unnerving” turbulence
When Air Force hurricane hunters flew into the eye of Hurricane Ian on Wednesday, they encountered surprisingly strong winds. Turbulence pushed the aircraft into a sudden drop of nearly 1,200 feet.
“It was NOT even calm in the eye,” said Dave Malkoff, a correspondent for The Weather Channel who was on the flight. he wrote on Twitter upon landing.
He said that at some points they were lifted from their seats and faced zero gravity.
The pilot, Kendall Dunn, told Malkoff it was his worst flight ever.
A NOAA reconnaissance plane called Kermit encountered similar turbulence as it flew through Ian’s eye. Nick Underwood, an engineer on the plane, shared video from inside the flight, showing mattresses falling from bunks as the plane jolted.
—Tropical Nick Underwood (@TheAstroNick) September 28, 2022
“We’re kind of used to the roller coaster feel, but in this case, there was just a lot of lateral movement,” Underwood told The New York Times. “It was much more irritating.”
He was also amazed at the constant lightning within the eye of the storm.
“That flight into Hurricane Ian in Kermit was the worst I’ve ever been on. I’ve never seen so much lightning in the eye,” Underwood told the Twitter.
The worst of the storm was on the other side of the eye
The tail of the hurricane – after it passed through the eye – was the most destructive part, according to forecasters on the scene.
“I haven’t experienced anything like this in over 30 years,” Mike Seidel, a meteorologist for The Weather Channel, wrote when he posted a video from the back of the Twitter storm.
—Mike Seidel (@mikeseidel) September 29, 2022
Cappucci, too, said it was the most extreme storm he had ever experienced.
“Usually, the back side of the eyewall isn’t as bad as the front side. And yet this time, it was much worse. I had about five to six hours of just productive rainfall, extreme wind gusts of well over 100 mph probably I got 15 inches of rain in six or seven hours,” he said.
Olson also found the back amazing.
Both Seidel and Cappucci said they were in the eye of the storm — the area of thick clouds where the wind and rain are strongest — for about five hours total.
At one point, Seidel’s colleague Jim Cantore appeared to be nearly blown away by the strong winds. As he jumped into a wide stance to weather the storm, a tree branch flew at him, hooked his leg and knocked him to the ground. After breaking free, he had to hold on to a sign and lean heavily into the wind before launching himself behind the shelter of a building.
—Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) September 28, 2022
“Honestly at this point very little is surprising,” said Olson, who is making a documentary of his footage. “This is starting to feel like routine, as terrible as that sounds.”