Hurricane Georges by Jim Edds
Key West, Florida  September 25, 1998
(all photos copyright 1998 Jim Edds unless otherwise noted)

Hurricane Georges was my first hurricane to photograph.  It was also my first time to ride shotgun with Jim Leonard, the Godfather of Hurricane and Typhoon hunting.  He was one of those guys that was born to chase storms - for the fun of it - even if he didn't make a dime off it.  Just being in a mean storm made him happy.  I had know Jim from another mutual Todd Kimberlain back in the 1980s.  Since I had lived in Guam, Jim wanted to know what it was like before he went there for his historic Typhoon chasing adventures.

Jim made the trip to Puerto Rico to "just get close" as he put it, to Georges because it was not forecast to be a bullseye.  Now who do you know that would drop some seriou tourist dollars to get in a storm?  Not many folks that I know.  I hadn't heard from him in a few days until I got this email: Unbelievable!, I'm on battery now -got to go".  Jim had captured some of his best footage ever at Luquillo in northeast Puerto Rico.  The image below is a video still taken from his video showing part of a roof being ripped away by a 125mph gust.

Georges was what I call an "Island Grinder" Hurricane.  It took at path to hit just about every Island it could before  landfall.  Puerto Rico, Domincan Republic, Haiti, Cuba, and lowly me in the Florida Keys.  Yep, it was coming to the Keys and it was my turn!

I lived in Marathon, Florida at the time and I got "the call" every storm chaser wants - an invite from the Master to go hang with him.  Boy, was I ever excited.  I had been an armchair chaser since Eloise back in 1975.  Heck, you could go back further to Typhoons in Guam in the early 70s if you wanted.

I was tracking Hurricane Georges at work because we had internet and saw to my surprise it was not going to clip Puerto Rico but damn it went due west right down the middle.  You don't see that kind of track very often.  Jim really scored on great "palm trees bent over in the wind" action, some of the best I've ever seen.  See video still below.

One of the things I remember about Jim Leonard is he was cool as a cucumber.  I couldn't sleep at all the night before.  I woke up Jim around 4 am and told him we needed to get down to Key West before all the bridges went underwater.  He just yawned and looked at the radar loop.  We've fine he said.

We are driving through Big Pine Key, it's still dark outside and I see all these purple flashes.  Wow, look at that cool lightning I said.  That's not lightning, it's power transformers shorting out Jim replied.  The lights were going out early in the Keys for sure.

Hurricane Georges was an all daytime event.  It blew hard all day long and really rattled the ole nerves of most everybody in Key West.  I remember one girl called into the local radio station 104.1FM that we were monitoring and asked how long the storm would last - she was terrified in her closet!  Funny how we were having a great time and she was so scared.  We found a nice sheltered spot on the downwind side up a Pizza Hut and got some nice shots of the wind blowing though Key West which hadn't seen a good blow in a very long time!  I took this shot of Jim, in t-shirt and flip-flops, his standard hurricane combat attire, for the Key West Citizen.  When the wind would peak over 100 mph and the sky turned white, Jim's eyes would get real big and he'd say "Wow".  Oh yeah, it was rocking his world for sure.

When the wind came down to about 60 mph we headed back to Marathon.  US1 was covered with debris and downed power lines.  We met the Marathon Rescue Firetruck about halfway.  It was really a site to see all the debris - washing machines, furniture, construction material - in the road.  No doubt, some houses were blown to bits.  When we got back to my place the power was out but it was nice and cool inside!  I set the AC all the way down so it would run until the power shut off.  I think we were the only ones sleeping nice and cool that night.  Oh yeah, and our food we forgot was on the table.  We tore into that!!!

both photos from Key West FL - Hurricane Georges September 25, 1998 copyright Jim Edds

Home Page