Behind the scenes - hurricane Irene and the waiting game...
Distance travelled ~ 603'857'600 km
It's late August and the 23 degrees team are gearing up to head back on the road capturing some of the planets' most exciting weather phenomena. This time Helen Czerski and the team are planning to go south east USA to film one of the largest and most destructive weather events of them all. A hurricane.
With the help of scientists and meteorologists the team have been tracking the course of Hurricane Irene as it wreaks havoc across the Caribbean. Yesterday it hit Puerto Rico and next in line is the Dominican Republic and then the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicios Islands.
We are not heading to the Caribbean though, instead we are on standby to go to either Florida or New Orleans should Irene make landfall in the USA. The team and crew have their bags packed, flights on hold and if the experts say the storm is going to hit the US they will take the next flight out.
It's now a waiting game to see where the storm goes, it could turn west and hit Louisiana or Texas or it could veer east out into the Atlantic and miss the US altogether, Filming these destructive weather events raises a real moral dilemma for me as Series Producer. I want to film one of the monster storms for the show to explain how they work, and to do that I need it to make landfall. But I don't want it to hit anywhere where lives and livelihoods could be put at risk. It's something I struggle with, and whenever I am involved in filming this kind of event where local people could be in danger, I sit at home watching the news and hoping that no-one has been hurt or killed.
Which brings up another issue when filming wild weather; the safety of the team. We want the footage to be exciting and to get as close as possible to the storm but we also must be safe. So we spend a lot of time planning how to achieve what we want safely. To do that we talk to experts in the field and watch footage of previous events so we know what we are getting into. We also travel into these storms guided by local teams of scientists who do this for a living. On top of that we have safety briefings with safety experts at base before travel, going through all possible scenarios and making plans to make sure we avoid dangerous situations but also how we will react if something unexpected should happen.
Talking of the unexpected we have to plan for that as well. That may sound stupid planning for something you don't expect, but when we are entering any potentially dangerous situation we have to plan for what we expect and what we don't. And once we are in the storm we have to act as safely as possible, that means wearing the right gear, following the instructions of the experts and staying alert. Hurricanes can be hairy places, powerful winds gusting at over 100 km an hour and storm surges bringing giants tides of sea water rushing inland. No footage is worth anyone getting hurt.
All that preparation should keep the team safe but that doesn't stop one worrying back at base.
All being well the team will head out to the US later this week, and hopefully they will be sending back some on location blogs from inside the heart of the storm.