Cyclone chaser Josh Morgerman eyes India with his love for storms on the show, Hurricane Man

In the event of a hurricane anywhere in the world, as most residents are evacuating, Josh Morgerman is on an inbound flight. He explains why in his new TV show, Hurricane Man.

Fathima Ashraf Published :  31st October 2019 05:29 PM   |   Published :   |  31st October 2019 05:29 PM

Josh Morgerman as Hurricane Man

Human instinct, as we know it, is to run away from life-threatening situations. 49-year-old Josh Morgerman is, however, a walking contradiction. The popular American storm chaser has been putting himself in danger for an adrenaline rush — and for science, since 1991. “My obsession with hurricanes goes as far back as I can remember. I was born with it,” says Josh, about his unique interest.

Born in an island off the East Coast of the USA, Josh remembers getting excited even as a child, every time a hurricane approached. “When the wind howls, trees wave and the house shakes, I will have an emotional reaction — almost like taking a drug,” he says, about his love for storms. “When I was a teenager, we had a really bad hurricane. I was excited about that one too — until the destruction made my mother cry. Then I felt terrible about it — like I had caused the calamity, by wishing for it. That began my complicated relationship with hurricanes.”

Josh Morgerman

Recalling his first chase, Josh shares,  “I was very young—in college. A hurricane was racing up the East Coast of the United States. I wanted to be in the storm, so I hastily packed a bag with some clothes, a paper map, and a little cash, and I rushed to the train station. I jumped on a train to New York, and then another one to Providence, and I just managed to taste the hurricane’s wrath. This was before the Internet or mobile phones, and before I was even old enough to rent a car. I look back at this chase and laugh now—it was such a primitive effort. Little did I know that this was the start of a lifelong addiction.”

All set for his TV show Hurricane Man, the California-based adventure junkie promises that with it, viewers will get to go on a high-octane rollercoaster ride through the world’s biggest hurricanes and typhoons of 2018. “On each mission, I’m hunting for the eye of the hurricane — the exact centre, to collect scientific data in order to understand its true intensity. At the same time, another team documents the people who are in the storm’s path — families attempting to save themselves and their homes. A third crew is embedded with emergency services and volunteer rescue teams as they save lives,” shares Josh, adding that each episode will weave together different angles, creating a 360-degree look at a storm’s impact.

A still from the show, Hurricane Man

Taking us through one of his chase experiences, Josh elaborates, “A chase happens in three parts. First being, ‘The Hunt’ where I feel like a wolf — totally alert, adrenaline pumping, hardly eating or sleeping, and focused on one single goal — penetrating the eye of the storm. Next is ‘The Impact’. Being in a severe hurricane is thrilling, but it’s not fun. It’s a strange, intense combination of feelings. It’s scary and surreal. There’s a strange beauty to it — a dark, terrible sort of beauty. The last part is ‘The Crash’. After a storm passes, I fall apart. All the adrenaline wears off, and for several days, I just eat and sleep. It’s like getting over an illness. It’s a toxic lifestyle.”

This first series of Hurricane Man takes viewers to the Ryukyu Islands of Japan, the cities of mainland Japan, the northern Philippines, the Pacific coast of Mexico, and three American states: Hawaii, North Carolina, and Florida. Talking further about the relevance of the show, he adds. “For folks who face hurricanes, it’s helpful as it shows you how to prepare for and survive these events. For those who live in places that don’t get hurricanes, the show is eye-opening as it captures intense, life-or-death human experiences. It’s emotional and inspiring.”

Being someone who has been chasing storm around the world for years, Josh thinks he is perpetually prepared for them. “I don’t take as many precautions as I should—I’m a terrible example for young people! But there are a couple of rules I usually follow. I always make sure I’m high enough above sea-level to avoid drowning in the storm surge. I make sure I’m in a structure that can withstand the winds. For instance, if it’s a Category 5 hurricane, that means a steel-reinforced concrete building. That having been said, I’ve broken these rules a few times—and when I have, I’ve paid the price,” he shares.

Sharing some of the challenges he has faced, Josh says, "Chasing is very dangerous. And when you do it at my level—all year, around the globe—it’s a tough lifestyle. It’s hard on your body and it’s even harder on your mind. It’s like being a competitive athlete—sometimes you feel tired and burned out. For most of my life, I’ve chased solo. That’s just my style; I’m a loner. But to make Hurricane Man, I had a whole film crew with me, following my every move, every minute—and that took some getting used to."

Having intercepted over 52 tropical cyclones including Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines (2013) and Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas (2019), Josh says his passion has taken him around the world. But what keeps him going? “Sometimes, when I leave for a chase, I’m not in the mood. I almost feel a sense of dread, as I head to the airport. It’s like I can’t help it. I need to experience these storms to feel complete. It’s an addiction.”

We ask him which part of the world he wishes to go next and he has a ready answer. "India is where I want to chase next! I am angry at myself for missing Cyclone FANI earlier this year. Indians should expect to see me there for the next one!" he signs off. 

Hurricane Man airs on November 1 at 10 pm only on Sony BBC Earth.