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The National Hurricane Center

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Photo Credit: David July — NWS logo, tracking map and a clock in the operations center of the National Hurricane Center, 11691 SW 17th Street, Miami, Florida, 15 May 2012

Back in May, I went down to Fort Lauderdale to attend the Florida Governor's Hurricane Conference (GHC). An annual event for emergency management professionals, the GHC offers attendees a selection of over forty training sessions and nearly sixty workshops.

It was an exciting time for me. I had recently been promoted at work and on the day before I drove to the GHC was named the Child Advocates II Board Member of the Year at the Second Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem Program's annual Guardian ad Litem Appreciation Day. A week in a beachfront hotel, albeit during a business trip, was certainly welcomed.

In addition to the keynote speaker's session and awards luncheon, I attended GHC courses on tropical meteorology, decision support, hazardous materials and social media for emergency managers.

Both an excellent educational and networking experience, I was impressed with the overall organization of the event. In the future, they need to blanket the place with wireless internet though. I had to rely on my personal smartphone's cellular connection to monitor email, occasionally tweet and refer to the schedule.

Perhaps the highlight of the week for me, however, was the tour of the National Weather Service's (NWS) National Hurricane Center (NHC) that I was able to take on Tuesday, 15 May 2012.

National Hurricane Center Tour Photo Set Preview

view the entire National Hurricane Center Tour album in the Gallery

It was a forty-five minute transit south by coach from the Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center. Looking out the window and spotting familiar locations along the way—like the large shark painted on the side of Paul W. Bell Middle School—I could not help feeling as if I was heading to Key West, my destination every other time I passed through here.

Upon our arrival, we were met by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Public Affairs Officer Dennis Feltgen who guided us to the security reception desk where we showed our government IDs and signed in.

It was Feltgen I asked if photography was permitted and his affirmative response elicited both joy and regret in me. Since the trip was not recreational, I had previously decided to bring only my pocket-sized workhorse, the Canon A540, but I immediately wished I had my Canon EOS 550D for the tour.

Photo Credit: David July — NOAA logo, NWS sign and a red navigational beacon above the lobby security desk at the National Hurricane Center, 11691 SW 17th Street, Miami, Florida, 15 May 2012

Our first stop was the Media Briefing Room, which is used for training, public outreach and media broadcasts during tropical events. Broadcast studio lights hanging above, the entire left wall of the room is made up of floor to ceiling sliding glass doors beyond which is the broadcast desk and Operations Area.

Photo Credit: David July — Broadcast desk and forecast center floor seen from the media room before the tour of the National Hurricane Center, 11691 SW 17th Street, Miami, Florida, 15 May 2012

Feltgen and his colleague first went around the room having us introduce ourselves. Our contingent was fairly diverse with members of state and local government, military, law enforcement and a few non-governmental organizations like the Red Cross.

Photo Credit: David July — Public Affairs Officer Dennis Feltgen talking in the media room about the organization and facility before the tour of the National Hurricane Center, 11691 SW 17th Street, Miami, Florida, 15 May 2012

After describing the history of the NHC and describing its present-day organization and functions, we split up and my group started the tour.

With two forecasters on duty at all times during hurricane season, the operations area is the heart of the NHC. Hurricane Specialist John Cangialosi showed us the various tools and resources staff use to collect data, analyze it and apply computer models, eventually producing public forecast products and guidance.

Photo Credit: David July — Hurricane Specialist John Cangialosi points toward Tropical Storm Aletta on the storm tracking map in the operations center of the National Hurricane Center, 11691 SW 17th Street, Miami, Florida, 15 May 2012

It was the first day of the Pacific hurricane season and the day before, a tropical disturbance organized sufficiently to be designated as Tropical Storm Aletta. It was cool to watch as the forecasters on duty in operations processed real-time data on Aletta and prepared for the upcoming Atlantic season (which ended up spawning two pre-season storms as well).

Senior Hurricane Specialist Daniel Brown was present and working as well, pausing from his paperwork to say hello.

Photo Credit: David July — Senior Hurricane Specialist Daniel Brown working at his desk in the operations center of the National Hurricane Center, 11691 SW 17th Street, Miami, Florida, 15 May 2012

Public tours of the NHC are only offered from 24 January to 26 April, obviously to avoid distractions to the staff during tropical events. Even though Aletta did not become very strong and never posed any danger to land, I felt fortunate to be able to tour the facility while something was going on.

Photo Credit: David July — Hurricane specialists working in the operations center of the National Hurricane Center, 11691 SW 17th Street, Miami, Florida, 15 May 2012

The NHC frequently holds coordination conference calls with other NOAA weather entities when preparing forecasts. During tropical events, they also provide daily briefings and expertise to the counties and State Emergency Response Team (SERT), of which I am a member.

Photo Credit: David July — NOAA hurricane hotline telephone in the operations center of the National Hurricane Center, 11691 SW 17th Street, Miami, Florida, 15 May 2012

The part of operations area familiar to most people is the broadcast desk from which NHC personnel broadcast tropical updates and provide media briefings.

Photo Credit: David July — Broadcast desk and the media room beyond in the operations center of the National Hurricane Center, 11691 SW 17th Street, Miami, Florida, 15 May 2012 Photo Credit: David July — What you don't see on television: behind the broadcast desk in the operations center of the National Hurricane Center, 11691 SW 17th Street, Miami, Florida, 15 May 2012

Next, we walked to the Chief Aerial Reconnaissance Coordination All Hurricanes (CARCAH) office and met Meteorologist Steve Feuer. Feuer briefed us on the fleet of US Air Force and NOAA aircraft deployed by CARCAH to investigate a storm, the technology used and their flight plan methodology.

A typical "hurricane hunter" mission lasts ten or more hours, permitting a multi-vectored course through the storm in different directions and at different altitudes. Despite it likely being a bumpy ride, I would jump at the opportunity to go on a CARCAH flight and photograph the crew, equipment and storm.

Photo Credit: David July — Twenty-four hour clock and NOAA aircraft model in the office of CARCAH, the Chief Aerial Reconnaissance Coordination All Hurricanes unit of the National Hurricane Center, 11691 SW 17th Street, Miami, Florida, 15 May 2012

Complementing on board instrumentation, dropsondes are also deployed from the aircraft allowing for the collection of data in and around the storm and water.

Photo Credit: David July — Meteorologist Steve Feuer shows off a dropsonde in the office of CARCAH, the Chief Aerial Reconnaissance Coordination All Hurricanes unit of the National Hurricane Center, 11691 SW 17th Street, Miami, Florida, 15 May 2012

I asked Feuer if dropsondes are collected and reused, but he said that they are designed to be expendable and contain some components—the batteries for one, if I am not mistaken—designed to be more bio-friendly.

Moving on to behind the operations area, Cangialosi next took us to Tropical Analysis and Forecast Branch (TAFB) workspace.

Photo Credit: David July — Sign, NWS logo and wall-mounted displays in the Tropical Analysis and Forecast Branch unit of the National Hurricane Center, 11691 SW 17th Street, Miami, Florida, 15 May 2012

As one of three major NHC branches, TAFB produces tropical cyclone position, intensity and precipitation estimates, tropical weather discussions and year-round marine forecasts through its Atlantic, Pacific/Classification, Atlantic/Pacific Analysis and Backup desks.

Photo Credit: David July — Meteorologist Martin Nelson at Atlantic Desk in the Tropical Analysis and Forecast Branch unit of the National Hurricane Center, 11691 SW 17th Street, Miami, Florida, 15 May 2012

Responsible for a fourteen million square nautical mile region, TAFB issues over 100 marine forecasts and/or warnings every day. Their marine products include high seas and offshore waters forecasts; sea surface state, wind wave and wave period analyses; and tropical cyclone danger area graphics.

Photo Credit: David July — Surface pressure analysis in the Tropical Analysis and Forecast Branch unit of the National Hurricane Center, 11691 SW 17th Street, Miami, Florida, 15 May 2012

Our next stop was the NHC Storm Surge Unit (SSU), responsible for forecasting the abnormal rise of water from a tropical system above the predicted astronomical tide.

As detailed by NOAA Commissioned Corps Officer Lieutenant Jeffrey Pereira, the SSU provides evacuation and mitigation planning tools using the Sea, Lake, and Overland Surges from Hurricanes (SLOSH) computer model to calculate maximum envelope of water (MEOW) and maximum of maximums (MOM) inundation analyses and forecasts.

Photo Credit: David July — NOAA Corps Lieutenant Jeffrey Pereira discussing his role in the Storm Surge Unit of the National Hurricane Center, 11691 SW 17th Street, Miami, Florida, 15 May 2012

While their acronyms may be amusing, the SSU's role at the NHC is critical. Storm surges are "often the greatest threat to life and property" in a tropical system.

Backtracking through offices, we made our way to the other entity that calls the NHC home, the Miami-South Florida Weather Forecast Office (MFL WFO). Providing full-time weather services for the region, MFL WFO was originally established as Miami's first Weather Bureau Office (WBO) in June 1911.

Photo Credit: David July — Meteorologists monitoring a severe weather system in the Miami-South Florida Weather Forecast Office at the National Hurricane Center, 11691 SW 17th Street, Miami, Florida, 15 May 2012

On this day, WFO staff were closely monitoring a local storm system with the potential to produce severe weather. As a staffer briefed the group on the office, I watched as meteorologists analyzed the storm and prepared their forecasts.

Photo Credit: David July — Severe weather system cross section analysis display in the Miami-South Florida Weather Forecast Office at the National Hurricane Center, 11691 SW 17th Street, Miami, Florida, 15 May 2012

I was also interested in three things located in the back of the room. First, I discovered the WFO's amateur radio station used for Skywarn and its amusing vanity call sign WX4MIA.

Photo Credit: David July — Amateur radio station WX4MIA in the Miami-South Florida Weather Forecast Office at the National Hurricane Center, 11691 SW 17th Street, Miami, Florida, 15 May 2012

To the right of the ham radio desk stands a black equipment rack housing vintage weather station equipment including an anemometer and a barograph. My photograph's resolution is unfortunately too low to make out the hardware's date of manufacture, but I would guess late 1950s or early 1960s.

Photo Credit: David July — NOAA barograph hardware by Belfort Instrument Company of Baltimore, Maryland in the Miami-South Florida Weather Forecast Office at the National Hurricane Center, 11691 SW 17th Street, Miami, Florida, 15 May 2012

Finally, next to the weather station is a beige rack holding the equipment and control panels for NOAA Weather Radio (NWR) in south Florida. Now automated by computer, this NWR console has manual control interfaces for WXM58 162.400 MHz in Belle Glade, KEC50 162.475 MHz in West Palm Beach, WWG92 162.525 MHz in Naples and KHB34 162.550 MHz in Miami.

Photo Credit: David July — NOAA Weather Radio broadcast hardware control panel in the Miami-South Florida Weather Forecast Office at the National Hurricane Center, 11691 SW 17th Street, Miami, Florida, 15 May 2012

Before I knew it, an hour and a half had passed and it was time to head back to Fort Lauderdale. I am glad to have been able to take part in this special NHC tour, especially after being in classes taught by many of its staff the day prior.

Photo Credit: David July — Rooftop satellite dishes, antennas and the eastern exterior wall of the National Hurricane Center, 11691 SW 17th Street, Miami, Florida, 15 May 2012

I would like to thank all of the NHC staff who hosted and spoke with our group. After having hosted the Federal Highway and Safety Administration (FHWA) in April for a briefing and tour of the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) in Tallahassee, it was fun to be on the other side.

Photo Credit: David July — Workstation in the Tropical Analysis and Forecast Branch unit of the National Hurricane Center, 11691 SW 17th Street, Miami, Florida, 15 May 2012

The balance of my time down south was great for many different reasons. I may elaborate on the GHC and trip more in a future article, but in the meantime I present these four groups of additional notes and highlights.

  • The Hotel
     
  • The Bahia Mar Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel was nice, although I wished that my room had a balcony or at least windows that opened.
     
  • The partially-covered walkway from the hotel over Seabreeze Boulevard was fantastic. I used it to walk to the beach every evening before dinner and again before bed.
     
  • The "gourmet" coffee in the room was undrinkable. Thinking I had done something wrong, I tried it again using more and less water but it was still terrible. This was fine though as I brought my own beverages and the GHC provided free soda and coffee during breaks.
     
  • The Convention Center
     
  • I liked the convention center well enough, although it was air conditioned way too much. I kept dashing outside during the breaks just to catch some fresh air and warm sunshine. I mean, I was in south Florida after all.
     
  • During a few of the training sessions, we were distracted by sounds emanating from the echoey service corridors: food service carts going by, dishes clanking and conversation.
     
  • Manufacturers of projector remote controls should go out of their way to design a simple, usable product for presenters. One was obviously built with a hair trigger; each time the presenter pushed "next slide," three would quickly go by.
     
  • The Restaurants
     
  • I do not plan to wait another six years before next dining at my favorite German restaurant, Old Heidelberg. The food and service were both as exemplary as I had remembered.
     
  • I had the Old Heidelberg Oktoberfest Mixed Plate consisting of bratwurst, Thüringer, knockwurst, smoked pork chop, meatball and kielbasa with red cabbage, sauerkraut, mashed potatoes, split pea soup and bread.
     
  • My patty melt meal at Lester's Diner was also delicious. The service was acceptable although the waitress seemed a bit distracted.
     
  • The Good Fortune
     
  • I am glad that I heard the train coming before I called a taxi to fetch me at Lester's, otherwise I would have paid for the pleasure of waiting thirty minutes for it to pass.
     
  • It was good to see and hang out with my friend Keith during my visit. Fortunately, his work schedule allowed him to visit on two evenings.
     
Photo Credit: David July — NOAA logo in the media room before the tour of the National Hurricane Center, 11691 SW 17th Street, Miami, Florida, 15 May 2012
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July

The First Trip Out

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Photo Credit: David July — Close-up of the old fireplace in the courtyard at Oscar's in Havana, 211 1st Street Northwest, Havana, Florida Last Sunday, I took my new Canon EOS 550D/Rebel T2i for a trial run in the nearby town of Havana. I had originally planned to go out on Saturday, but the overcast weather coupled with my desire to sleep in necessitated the change. Sunday ended up being partly cloudy but otherwise ideal for a short road trip and walk around Havana. A few of the clouds did block the sun at times, leaving me to simply enjoy the fresh air while waiting for better lighting conditions. Several friendly people said hello or asked if I was a professional photographer—I thought it amusing the difference a simple lens hood makes in appearances, or rather in the assumptions of others—but it was otherwise fairly quiet around the shops in the historic downtown area. Photo Credit: David July — A water spigot and its reflection, 200 block of 1st Street Northwest, Havana, Florida As I always do when shooting in Havana, I went over to the Seaboard Coast CSX railroad tracks and Havana Station. Originally built in 1939, the station has been transformed into retail shops, primarily consisting of a store with interesting art and furniture. I can only imagine what it must sound like when freight trains roll by only feet from the exterior windows on the building's west side. Although I had intended to try each of the three lenses I purchased during this trip, I decided that without an appropriate bag it would be too risky to do a bunch of switching. As such, I chose the Sigma 18–50mm f/2.8-4.5 for this first outing figuring it would give me a comfortable range within which to work. I plan to give the Canon 50mm f/1.8 and Canon 55–250mm f/4–5.6 EF-S lenses more shakedown time this upcoming weekend. Photo Credit: David July — A mirror in front of the Planters Exchange complex (1930) reflects cars parked on 1st Street Northwest, 204 2nd Street Northwest, Havana, Florida At one point, hunger took over and I decided to return to a restaurant I had passed earlier called Oscar's in Havana. Occupying the former Mockingbird Café location, Oscar's has an courtyard that is perfect for outdoor dining on beautiful days. I had a meatball sub with pasta salad ($8.99). The sub was served open on a flat bread with red onions and ample sauce. It was quite delicious. The pasta salad was also quite good, although I could have done without all the feta cheese. Photo Credit: David July — "World's Best Hot Dogs" food cart and people painted on the brick wall of 102 East 7th Avenue, 302 North Main Street, Havana, Florida Once at home, I used Adobe Lightroom 4 to process the raw photographs and started developing (no pun) a new workflow for myself. I definitely have a lot to learn about Lightroom, but so far I am very impressed. I love that the photographs are never really edited, but that changes are saved as actions in a separate catalog file instead. I also expected some of the tools to operate more like Photoshop than they do. It turns out I like how Lightroom does things better in several cases, foremost being the crop tool. I anticipate that the biggest time saver will be the excellent meta data and location tools. Not only does it make me happy to have my detailed titles, descriptions and other data exist within the photos instead of only on Flickr, but it makes the upload process the end of my workflow. This is important because my slow internet connection means long uploads for photograph sets. Photo Credit: David July — The Planters Exchange complex (1930) along the rail south of the former Havana Station (1939), Near 1st Street Northwest at 7th Avenue West, Havana, Florida In all, it was an excellent afternoon. You can see all thirty-seven images from this trip in the First Trip Out 2012 album in the Gallery.
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July
Photo Credit: David July

The Black Bean Chili Dip

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Photo Credit: David July — Boat ramp and wooden dock to the Chattahoochee River at Buena Vista Park, Buena Vista Landing, Jackson County, Florida, 25 February 2012

Possibly the biggest hit of Omar and Pam's gathering last night was the incredibly delicious Black Bean Chili Dip they served. I enjoyed it with pita, crisps and by itself.

After Pam sent out her recipe earlier, no doubt due to popular demand, I realized that in ten and a half years I have never featured a recipe on this site. That ends today.
 

Black Bean Chili Dip
by Pamela Moyer

Ingredients
  1. 15 ounce can black beans: rinsed, drained and partially mashed
  2. 1/2 cup drained whole kernel corn or fiesta corn with diced peppers
  3. 1/3 cup thick and chunky medium spiced salsa — I used a little more
  4. 1/4 cup water — I used a little less
  5. 3 teaspoons chili powder
  6. 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper — optional
  7. 1 1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  8. 3 tablespoons canned diced green chilies
  9. cooking spray
Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Combine black beans, corn, salsa, water, chili powder and cayenne.
  3. Pour into a small casserole dish. I used an 8-inch round; smaller is better.
  4. Sprinkle with cheese and chilies.
  5. Cover and bake for 20–30 minutes; until dip is bubbly, cheese is melted.
  6. Uncover and bake an additional 5 minutes.

 
In my haste to devour the deliciousness, I failed to take a photograph of yesterday's dish. If you make it, please send me a photo of your results!

Photo Credit: David July