One of the foremost storm chaser is Josh Morgerman. Creator of the upcoming series, Hurricane Man on BBC, Morgerman's fascination with storms started with his brush with Hurricane Gloria that bored down on this hometown in Long Island. Since then, Morgerman (who also created iCyclone, a "loosely-affiliated, cross-functional club of chasers, researchers, and meteorologists") has been chasing tropical cyclones, collecting data and getting that adrenaline fix. In Hurricane Man, the eight-episode series allows viewers to see through Morgerman's eyes as he brings us up close to the storm; from the Philippines to America's Deep South, you will profess newfound respect for nature's terrible beauty. We talk to Morgerman during one of his respites from his storm chasing.
ESQUIRE: According to reports, hurricanes are fiercer now, but you don’t take a stance on whether the increased in ferocity is due to climate change, why is that?
JOSH MORGERMAN: Well, the science is unclear. I am not a climatologist and so I read the peer-reviewed papers and research of climatologists and the connection between hurricanes and climate change is not yet well understood. However, there is some science that climate change is having some impact. There are two things that we’re noticing.
One is that it looks like hurricanes are dropping more rainfall because of the greater atmosphere heat content—so that’s one thing. And we’ve noticed in some recent hurricanes that the rainfall totals were unbelievable—just record-breaking rainfalls and that seems like it could be connected to climate change.
The other thing we’re noticing is that it looks like hurricanes may be getting a little stronger; it doesn’t look like there are more hurricanes—the global average is about the same but it looks like more of the ones that do form are reaching the upper levels of the intensity scale. So those are some preliminary indicators of how climate change might be affecting hurricanes but again, it is still not well understood and a lot more research needs to be done.
ESQ: What are some of the craziest hurricanes you’ve ever chased?
JOSH: I’ve been chasing (for) 30 years since I was a teenager and I’ve had some crazy experiences. I would say that the most memorable was Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. That was the strongest hurricane or typhoon ever to strike land and it made a direct hit on a large city—Tacloban City—and I would say that one was the most memorable because it was the most disturbing. The level of death and destruction that I saw made a tremendous impact on me. But there have been many other hurricanes that really stand out to me. A few times I’ve been inside houses and buildings as the wind just tore them apart and that’s a scary experience if you’ve ever been in that kind of [episode].
ESQ: When was the closest you’ve come to dying?
JOSH: I’ve had a couple of shaves with death. I was in a really powerful hurricane in Mexico in a hotel and the wind just started to tear it apart and I survived the storm with 7 other people squeezed into a tiny bathroom under a mattress because the wind was so powerful. I would say that was one where I was worried I wouldn’t survive. Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines had between six to 10,000 deaths and that was one where I was lucky to survive. Although I would say with that one, I wasn’t worried about me so much—I spent the whole time rescuing others because there were young people and elderly folks and ones with disabilities that we were trying to protect as the waters came up. But I’ve been lucky all these years. I’ve had minor injuries but somehow, I’ve always survived.
ESQ: Your fascination for hurricanes is unparalleled but does the guilt ever set in when it comes to the aftermath of what happens to a town whenever a hurricane passes through it? Is there a worry in fetishising a devastation?
JOSH: Well, I don’t feel guilty because I have no control over the event. And I would say that my chasing them is mostly a positive thing. First off, I’m a strong athletic able-bodied man who knows a lot about hurricanes. So, in many situations when I’m with other people and we’re in danger, because of my knowledge and physical strength, I am able to help people even by telling them how to protect themselves or by physically carrying people out of the water.
Secondly, the scientific data that I collect is a very big part of what I do now. When I was younger, I was more of a thrill-seeker but as I’ve gotten older, the main objective for me now is collecting scientific data. What excites me is that I’m often chasing hurricanes and typhoons in very remote places where maybe there aren’t weather stations so the data I collect are the only data that exists and that information is very useful for scientists as they try to understand what happened.
I’m proud of my work and I definitely don’t feel guilty. But that being said, when I witness the death and destruction up close, it’s very upsetting. And after Super Typhoon Haiyan, for a long time afterwards, I didn’t want to think about hurricanes.
ESQ: Do you fear a day when you won’t be able to do this anymore?
JOSH: I look at hurricane chasing as a sport. When you really do it full-time, hard-core as I do, it’s like being an athlete and athletes don’t play competitively their entire lives. After a certain point, they’re older. And I think that my career would be the same way. Right now, I’m in my peak and I will be for a while—I stay in really good shape. But at a certain point, I’ll probably start chasing less as I get older. I think I would be chasing till the day I die but maybe not all over the world like I am right now.
ESQ: Are there differences in the hurricanes you chase? Especially in the different parts of the world?
JOSH: That’s a great question. So, around North America, we call them hurricanes. In East Asia, they’re typhoons. In Australia, they’re cyclones. And they’re all the same thing. I would say this: the typhoons in East Asia are often larger—they cover more space. The Atlantic hurricanes seem to be a little smaller, I’ve noticed, but I’m not sure if that’s a scientific viewpoint or what I’ve just seen. One interesting thing is that every year, different parts of the world are busy. For example, in 2017, the Atlantic was on fire. All of these big hurricanes striking the United States and the Caribbean.
In East Asia, it was a quiet season—there weren’t many typhoons. And then sometimes it’ll reverse where the Western Pacific and East Asia just gets all these big typhoons and then the Atlantic is quiet. So, it seems like every year the hotspot is somewhere else—it moves around.