Student weather enthusiasts chasing Isaac on Gulf Coast

Adrienne Burch

By Adrienne Burch

Staff Reporter

Four members of The University of Alabama Meteorological Society traveled from Tuscaloosa to the Gulf Coast Tuesday afternoon to storm-chase Hurricane Isaac.

UAMS is a group of weather enthusiasts that serves West Alabama and surrounding areas with up-to-date weather information, said Chris Amalfitano, vice president of UAMS and junior majoring in Public Relations.

Brantley French, a senior majoring in history and storm chasing director of UAMS, left Tuscaloosa around 10 a.m. Tuesday and headed to New Orleans to begin shooting video of the storm.

French was joined Tuesday night by the rest of his UAMS team in Waveland, Miss.

“On South Beach Boulevard in Waveland, Miss. the water was up to our knees,” French said. “There was no beach left and no road left.”

The team live-streamed Isaac from Waveland Tuesday night until they encountered an emergency situation where all of their vehicles were stuck due to flooding in the area.

“We were lucky we got out before the tide came in and got us,” French said, “We could have lost our lives or possibly all of our equipment.”

The team turned in around 1 a.m. and woke up around 6 a.m. on Wednesday to head back toward New Orleans. French said the team was able to get right down on Canal Street in the French Quarter to check out the flooding.

“In certain areas the power was out,” said French, “and we were recording wind gusts of up to 75 miles per hour. The wind would turn over large metal objects right in front of us.”

The team then traveled east to chase after a tornado threat but was forced to return because of severe flooding. They were unable to get within two miles of the coast.

Patrick Reilly, a senior majoring in criminal justice and founder and president of UAMS, said one of the most notable lessons he has learned in this chase is to be better prepared with gasoline.

“We have had a lot of trouble finding open gas stations,” Reilly said.

They have run across several highways that were completely inundated with water, he said. They need to be familiar with the area they are storm chasing so that when they face situations like this they can react better and know where to go next.

UAMS started storm chasing in the spring of 2011 with the April 27, 2011 tornado in Tuscaloosa. Their footage of the Tuscaloosa tornado has been sold and used by the Discovery Channel.

However, French said the Isaac storm chase has been much different from their previous tornado chases over the past year.

“Hurricanes are non-stop going at 85 miles per hour all the time,” French said, “It has kept us on our toes.”

UAMS can be found on Twitter @UA_Weather and on their website www.uamswx.com. They are also hosting a live feed of Hurricane Isaac at www.uamswx.com/live-chase-feed.html