Monday, June 29, 2015

Tropical Storm Bill StickNet Deployment Summary

Deployment Preparation

On Sunday, June 14, 2015, a tropical disturbance moved off the Yucatan Peninsula and entered the Southern Gulf of Mexico. Model guidance suggested the disturbance would move into a favorable environment for development and make landfall somewhere along the Southeastern Texas Coast in about 48 hours. Given the run-to-run consistency in the model guidance, preparations for a possible deployment commenced. Beginning around 10:00 AM CDT on June 14, a small team of students including National Wind Institute PhD student and TTUHRT member, James Duncan, Atmospheric Science Group masters student, Phil Ware, and TTUHRT field coordinator, Rich Krupar III, began organizing supplies and tools, checking trailer and truck tire pressures, and charging StickNet external batteries. To the groups surprise, a flat tire was found on the rear drivers side of the new truck used to tow the StickNet trailers. An old rusty screw had punctured through the sidewall of the tire. Immediately, the team took the damaged tire to a local tire shop for replacement. In the meantime, the team traveled to a local hardware store to purchase new bungees, clear silicon, and heavy duty Velcro, to replace old supplies used to secure the StickNet tripods and external batteries, as well as, mitigate water intrusion. Final preparations for the day concluded around 6:00 PM CDT.

Later that evening, Atmospheric Science Group PhD student, Scott Gunter, aspired to deploy three StickNets at the Reese Center airfield, in an effort to satisfy lingering thunderstorm objectives related to his dissertation. With the assistance of myself, both Scott and I deployed three StickNets near the Reese Center mesonet site, in advance of a thunderstorm outflow complex as seen in the panorama shot below.

Outflow winds approaching the Reese Center field site on June 14, 2015. Photo courtesy of Rich Krupar III.
The StickNets remained deployed for several hours as lackluster outflow moved through and dangerous cloud-to-ground lightning illuminated the field site. Around 9:30-10:00 PM CDT, Scott and I retrieved the three StickNet probes and began charging them once again. I left for my apartment immediately after we returned to base to begin packing my bag, in the event that we would pull the trigger and head to the Southeastern Texas Coast in the morning.

Deployment Reasoning

Model runs were monitored overnight for run-to-run consistency and a small meeting took place at Reese to decide on whether or not to deploy, as well as, how many people and StickNet probes would be deployed. The disturbance had not yet been named nor had it gained tropical depression status; however, healthy thunderstorm activity continued to develop around the center of circulation and the upstream environment was still favorable for development. Given limited availability among the TTUHRT, I suggested that the same team that had helped me prepare the previous day go to the Southeastern Texas Coast. Both James and Phil had never deployed StickNet in advance of a tropical system before, so there was a lack of experience to contend with. Also, with limited personnel, only one trailer containing 12 StickNet probes was deployed. The goal of the deployment was to test the refined real-time capabilities of the StickNet probes and make the best possible deployment with a limited window of time. I departed from Reese Center campus at 10:30 AM CDT on June 15, picked up both James and Phil from their home, and we immediately began driving toward the Southeastern Texas Coast.

Deployment Summary

We traveled all day and used Google Earth imagery along the way to scout potential deployment locations. Roughly 3 hours from the target location, we noticed that our diesel exhaust fuel (DEF) was low and had to make a quick pit stop to obtain more DEF. At the same time, we filled up our auxiliary fuel tank, obtained snacks for the long night ahead, and made final checks on our trailer and truck. We began deploying our first StickNet probe east of Angleton, Texas, around 10:30 PM CDT and the National Hurricane Center had just upgraded the tropical disturbance to Tropical Storm Bill. We worked all through the night deploying one StickNet probe at a time on barrier islands, elevated terrain features, and/or in open fields near airports. We deployed our final StickNet probe just before 7:00 AM CDT on June 16 and setup camp in Port Lavaca, Texas, to ride out the landfall of Tropical Storm Bill. A map of all twelve StickNet deployments can be seen below.

Google Earth map of the StickNet deployment (yellow pins) and the National Hurricane Center best-track center fixes (red tropical cyclone symbol).
The team managed to get a few hours of sleep, while members of the TTUHRT back in Lubbock monitored the StickNet real-time data feed. All twelve StickNet probes successfully relayed one-minute barometric pressure and wind summary statistics before, during, and after landfall, demonstrating the capability of the refined real-time telemetry. 

As Bill's center of circulation passed close by the hotel we were staying at, water levels began to rise in Port Lavaca. The combination of the storm and high tide allowed water levels to rise nearly 4 ft. This water level rise led to flash flooding and pier damage in Port Lavaca, as evidenced by the photo I captured in a nearby camper park.

Higher than normal water levels and pier damage at a camper park in Port Lavaca, Texas, on June 16, 2015. Photo courtesy of Rich Krupar III.
The team rested up for the remainder of the day and began retrieving the deployed StickNet probes at sunrise on June 17. The pickup only took 5 hours to complete since there were no obstacles to overcome (e.g. water covered roads). After making a quick lunch stop, the team quickly downloaded the data from each StickNet probe using custom software developed in-house, processed the summary statistics, and began driving back to Lubbock. The team arrived back in Lubbock on June 18 around 2:00 AM CDT.

Overall, given the lack of daylight to scout deployment locations and lack of experience among the team in deploying StickNet in advance of tropical systems, the team achieved its goal of disseminating real-time information during the landfall of Tropical Storm Bill. It was a joy to lead both James and Phil into the field and it made me think back to my first deployment in the North Carolina Outer Banks for Hurricane Irene (2011). I came full circle from the novice to the field leader and it was a deployment I will never forget.

In the next week, I will try and get either James or Phil or both to share their first time experience deploying with the TTUHRT. Stay tuned!

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