There are Category 5s, and then there are “nuclear grade” hurricanes. Storm chaser Josh Morgerman rode out Hurricane Dorian at ground zero — Marsh Harbour, Abaco.
The storm has left behind a humanitarian crisis in the northwest Bahamas, where at least 50 people are dead, more than 1,000 people are missing and thousands are without food, water and shelter.
In his video and firsthand account, Morgerman chronicles Dorian’s punishing wrath that he hopes will draw more attention to just how severe and horrifying the storm was, as well as its devastating toll.
Morgerman, who has intercepted more hurricane cores than any living person, is the star of the reality TV show “Hurricane Man,” which debuts this Sunday at 9 p.m. Eastern on the Science Channel.
Recounting his experience in Dorian, Morgerman said, “I had that feeling when I landed [in Abaco] that this was going to be a chase for the ages.” But as Dorian’s fury arrived in Abaco on Sept. 1 Morgerman, vanished into Internet silence. Some feared the worst.
It wasn’t for another 55 hours — around the time Dorian was finally beginning to pull away from Grand Bahama — that Morgerman tweeted again. “Yep, I’m alive,” he wrote. And he has a hell of a story to tell.
His tale of pursuing Dorian begins in New York. “I wasn’t expecting to chase anything,” said Morgerman. “Then for a couple days I started thinking about going to Puerto Rico when Dorian looked to pull some [rapid intensification]. I almost went, but didn’t.”
Dorian skirted east of Puerto Rico on Aug. 28, lashing the Virgin Islands with 90 mph wind gusts as it achieved hurricane status. Over the next three days it would undergo intermittent bouts of rapid intensification, peaking as a high-end Category 5 monstrosity on Sept. 1. Morgerman was ready.
“I flew to Florida, but Dorian ended up being a big fake-out,” he said. “I knew if I wanted a piece of this storm, I had to go to Great Abaco.” And he did. His flight — the last one to an island holding its breath — was nearly full, travelers eager to make it home before disaster struck.
“I landed, and I had that ‘Yeah, this is big’ feeling.”
But few others seemed aware of the horror that soon would unfold. “I’m around all these people, normal people, not weather nerds,” Morgerman said. “They have no clue.”
His chases have taken him all over, both around the world and close to home. Many locations — like the Philippines or the Bahamas — are prone to hurricanes. Many Bahamians have ridden out a dozen or more storms. That’s both a blessing and a curse.
“People who are used to hurricanes … get a false sense of security,” said Morgerman. “They never realized that Dorian would be an absolute monster.”
Morgerman described Dorian as approaching the island “like a bowling ball,” with the intrepid cinematographer and data-gatherer and 11 others riding out the storm’s first half in a “solid concrete school on a hill” to escape the surge.
“We got a perfect direct hit,” he said.
The video captures the extreme fury that is a Category 5 eyewall. “The duration of the core of really destructive winds was about five hours,” Morgerman said. That’s an inordinate amount of time to be subjected to high-end tornado-force winds.
Less than a year ago, Morgerman intercepted another Category 5, Hurricane Michael, which ravaged the Florida Panhandle. “Michael was much quicker” compared with Dorian, he said.
Morgerman spent 90 minutes in Dorian’s front eyewall, the zone of most extreme winds, and nearly two hours in its calm eye. He described the moment he emerged from his bunkerlike shelter. “You go outside and your eyes take a minute to adjust. After all, you’ve just been in this pitch-black bunker.” On recording the eyewall he said, “You might as well be filming a white curtain.”
Cloaked in the eyewall were a barrage of miniswirls and tornado-like vortices with “wild pressure fluctuations” evident. “There was some really weird stuff,” said Morgerman. “And I know there were some [miniswirls and tornadoes] because I saw a car tossed the wrong way.”
He described cars as being “mangled and mutilated,” thrown about haphazardly. “Some of them had parts of the engines ripped out. There was a lot of weird stuff like that.”
Once the eye arrived, Morgerman and other storm victims he sheltered with immediately sought refuge elsewhere. “I was very scared,” he said. “We couldn’t ride out the second half in this little bunker.”
Next they proceeded to a government center down the road, with Morgerman unable to access any data to know when the eyewall would abruptly return. “The idea of getting caught out on the road really spooked me,” he said.
He continued: “When we got to the complex, that’s when you really got the full sense of the scale. Everyone you talked to had an epic tale of a near-death experience. … Everyone just had this story you couldn’t believe.”
Morgerman recounted that storm victims swam to refuge, losing everything but the clothes on their back. “I [talked with people who had] loved ones swept away, or saw bodies. I think [the death toll] will be higher,” he said.
For Morgerman, hurricanes are scientific; the thrill of the chase is purely meteorological. But his efforts are twofold: He aims to show people the scope of the devastation, and hopefully spur action.
“The human suffering … I want to make sure it stays in the news, because we’ve got to help them” he said.
“Nothing sparks assistance and aid like seeing it,” he said. “Unlike most of my videos, this one really shows the aftermath.”
Morgerman hopes that what he captured will trigger action and solicit the aid that’s so desperately needed on the ravaged islands.
“What struck me the most was this neighborhood called the Mudd,” he said. “It’s a poor, low-lying part of Marsh Harbour that was just scoured … football fields of wreckage from the combination of those winds and the storm surge. [They’re still finding] bodies there before they figure out what happened and how many people died. The very last shot that my video closes with is of that neighborhood. It conveys the scale of the impact.”