For hurricane information from the experts, you visit HurricaneTrack.com.
Mark Sudduth created HurricaneTrack.com 10 years ago as a hobby site for weather enthusiasts. It was initially built for the true weather buff that wanted to know how fast the wind was blowing or what the air pressure was in the teeth of the hurricane.
Beginning with hurricane Dennis along the North Carolina coast in late August of 1999, and then hurricane Floyd just a few days later, the site immediately became known as a place where people could access information far different from what they could get from a typical news site.
HurricaneTrack.com is most famous for the in-the-field reports that are gathered and posted right from the location of a hurricane landfall. This is part of the responsibilities of the Hurricane Intercept Research Team (HIRT), the science and field study arm of the operation. Using the latest in wireless technology from Sprint, the field crew is able to send live weather data and stream live video to the site from even the harshest of conditions. This is what put HurricaneTrack.com on the map. Sudduth quotes:
“Over the past 10 years, we have employed some incredible technologies to put our visitors right there with us, as if they are literally riding in our research vehicle (a sturdy Chevy Tahoe pictured below). We now deploy remotely operated wind towers, video camera systems and collect data from a wide area of a hurricane landfall. We have deployed for almost 20 hurricanes including the infamous Katrina in 2005. It is all part of an effort to learn more about these incredible events and to teach others based on our experiences.”
Their expertise has been utilized on major television networks, most notably CNN. The videos they capture are often used in documentaries that air months after the hurricanes have come and gone.
Growth equals challenges.
Their first real test came in 2008 when hurricane Gustav was bound for the Louisiana coast. Earlier that year, they had partnered with CNN in an effort to broadcast live video streams from remotely operated camera units they had previously developed in 2005.
Sudduth, and business partner, Mike Watkins, went to Atlanta to appear live in the CNN studios to show the world their plan to capture Gustav like no one has ever seen a hurricane before. CNN promoted the project heavily, announcing to viewers that they could follow their work as it unfolded on HurricaneTrack.com. The site immediately became over loaded and was not responding to requests fast enough. At that moment, Sudduth realized that they were not prepared for the traffic.
“It was a great moment for our project, while at the same time, a major kick in the teeth since there was nothing we could do to remedy the problem.”
Before they had time to consider moving the website, Hurricane Ike was headed for Texas and CNN once again ramped up their coverage of not only the hurricane but of HurricaneTrack.com as well.
As Ike closed in on Galveston, Texas, they were being interviewed hourly and were experiencing a very high demand for their services. Again, an exciting time for them but the downside was the website. Millions of people were trying to access the site all at once and only thousands at a time could get in. It was a stressful time as a large and very dangerous hurricane was closing in. Water was rising all over Galveston. It was an incredible event on many levels.
After Ike and the phenomenal exposure that CNN provided HurricaneTrack.com, they decided to finally tackle the issues of handling the “hurricane effect” website traffic spikes and one machine wasn’t going to cut it. After doing research, Sudduth was finally referred to the Rackspace Cloud:
“We needed a host that could scale up when we had spikes in traffic but would not cost so much that it was not affordable specifically in the off-season months of December through May. The site has been flawless in its performance. We are impressed with the results to date but realize that the real test is yet to come.”
As we enter another season of hurricanes, they expect there will be at least one major threat to the United States. They have already met with CNN to plan their 2009 strategy. When the next big hurricane threatens, they are positioned to provide extraordinary coverage as they gather data and provide information to an audience who trusts them for their level of experience and dedication to the science. Mark is confident that they are prepared for the coverage:
“This time we are ready. We will not have to worry about how many people are visiting the site and how well it is performing. As long as there are hurricanes, there will be a need for sites like HurricaneTrack.com. A lot depends on what Mother Nature decides and we don’t control that. We do control where our site is hosted. Now, let’s see what the hurricane season brings. We are prepared for anything.”