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Hurricane Dennis

Pensacola, Florida - July 10, 2005

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Satellite Image

Hurricane Dennis You Tube

Hurricane Dennis made landfall near Pensacola in the Florida Panhandle on July 10th, 2005 as a Category 3 storm. I wanted to intercept this powerful storm so my only option was to fly from Toronto to Pensacola the day before it was forecast to strike. Upon arriving in Florida, I was horrified to discover that my luggage had not made the connecting flight in Atlanta! This was a huge problem because the airport was about to shut down before the storm and, over 1 million people had just evacuated the area so there were no stores open to purchase new clothes. Also missing was a lot of my camera gear, my GPS and all of my safety equipment. This is not an ideal situation, especially with a major hurricane about to strike in just over 24 hours. I waited at the airport for the last flight from Atlanta to arrive before Delta airlines was about to shut down their operations in preparation for the storm and what a relief it was to see my bags come down the conveyor belt...Now it was time to concentrate on the chase.

I started scouting out a few locations, looking for sturdy buildings to use as shelter. At this point, the hurricane was strengthening rapidly and was forecast to strike as a strong Category 4 which made finding adequate shelter a priority. Here a a few excerpts from the forecast discussion put out by the National Hurricane Center:

HURRICANE DENNIS SPECIAL DISCUSSION NUMBER 22
NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
7 PM EDT SAT JUL 09 2005

WHAT A DIFFERENCE 2 HOURS MAKES! AIR FORCE AND NOAA HURRICANE
HUNTER AIRCRAFT INDICATE THE CENTRAL PRESSURE OF DENNIS DROPPED 11
MB IN AN HOUR AND A HALF. THE MAXIMUM FLIGHT-LEVEL WINDS REPORTED
N OF THE CENTER WERE 105 KT...AND THERE WERE LIKELY STRONGER WINDS
IN THE NORTHEASTERN QUADRANT THAT THE AIRCRAFT DID NOT SAMPLE.

HURRICANE DENNIS DISCUSSION NUMBER 23
NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
10 PM CDT SAT JUL 09 2005

AFTER DEEPENING AT A RATE THAT BORDERED ON INSANE DURING THE
AFTERNOON...DENNIS HAS CONTINUED TO STRENGTHEN AT A MORE NORMAL
RATE THIS EVENING.

Dennis Track Map

I was also able to find an open grocery store where I stocked up with food, water and other supplies since it was likely that I would get trapped here for days with no electricity. A place to sleep was the next order of business and I was fortunate to find a Ramada hotel that was right near the water and was quite sturdy. A perfect spot. Of course, every news crew in the world found it as well and soon the place was a beehive of activity with reporters, camera crews and satellite uplink trucks strewn about the parking lot. It was quite the circus.

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The locals learned their lesson last year with hurricane Ivan. More than a million people evacuated the area before the arrival of Dennis. The storm weary residents, already ravaged by hurricane Ivan less than a year ago, re-use their window coverings and evacuate the area. The day before Dennis strikes Pensacola, thunderstorms from the outer bands begin to come ashore. The hotel was still rebuilding after the 2004 hurricane season. The hub of the media frenzy leading up to the hurricane.

On the morning of the 10th, Dennis had a few surprises for me. The storm track had shifted to the west, putting the storm near the Alabama border. I started to re-evaluate my strategy and then a few hours later, the hurricane wobbled to the north, putting it on a direct collision course with Pensacola. Perfect. I didn't need to go anywhere. The strongest portion of this incredible storm was headed right where I wanted it. The conditions slowly deteriorated as the day passed and the wind and rain were gradually increasing as the storm approached. It was amusing watching the various news crews doing their interviews and reports while bracing themselves in the wind but the best was yet to come.

Dennis had one more trick up his sleeve. Just before landfall, his path wobbled again, this time shifting the track slightly to the east and weakening down to category 3 intensity. This meant that I was still going to get the eyewall of the storm but the strongest winds were going to be a little to my east. I considered shifting locations but by now, we were in tropical storm force winds and the dangers of falling trees, flooding and downed power lines was too great so I stayed put as the winds increased more and more until all hell broke loose...The most intense part of the storm only lasted about 20 minutes or so but the wind gusts were so intense that I was actually blown off my feet and pushed along the ground for about 50 feet across a gas station parking lot and directly towards a parked truck. As I was careening across the ground on my back, all I could do was steer myself away from the undercarriage and towards the tires. I had my feet out ahead of me and was able to stop my slide by hitting the rear tire. What a ride that was. The wind was so strong that I had no way of stopping myself.

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Measuring the wind speed out on a pier in Escambia Bay, Pensacola. The CNN camera crew scrambles for cover as the eywall begins to hit the area. The wind was strong enough to toss me down and slide me all the way from the handrail to the pickup truck. Downed power lines made travel extremely difficult and dangerous.

There was a lot of tree branches and leaves flying through the air and the large Ramada sign at the hotel began to spin like a top and eventually came apart and crashed to the ground. There was even a tornado in the eyewall that crossed the interstate highway 10 bridge in Escambia Bay just to my east.

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CNN's Anderson Cooper reporting live from our location in Pensacola. The sign from the Ramada hotel came crashing down right in front of all the news crews.

Because the strongest winds were so tightly wrapped up around the eye of the storm, the peak intensity didn't last very long. In its wake were wrecked buildings, downed trees and power lines and over a billion dollars in insured property damage.

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Damaged houses along the Escambia Bay area.

More damaged houses along the Escambia Bay area.