A hard rain's gonna fall — more and more, say climatologists. And when they come, Huntington-raised Josh Morgerman will record them not only as one of the world's preeminent storm chasers but as the star of the new Science Channel series "Hurricane Man," premiering Sunday at 9 p.m.
It was two hurricanes here on Long Island that set Morgerman, 49, on his peripatetic path. At 6 years old, already having been mesmerized by the tornado in "The Wizard of Oz," he was asleep in bed in 1976 when Hurricane Belle hit. "But the impression it made on me was the next day, when I walked outside our house, seeing our neighborhood really smashed up. I was, like, 'What happened here?' I became this big weather nerd," he avows. "Like, walking around high school with weather maps."
When Hurricane Gloria made landfall in 1985, "It was my biggest fantasy come true, this big hurricane forming off the coast of Africa, crossing the Atlantic and shooting up the coast. Long Island was the bull's-eye," he recalls. "I was so excited. I had a barometer my dad gave me for Christmas, and I measured [the air] pressure in the eye -- the first time I ever collected data on a hurricane."
That's when the human cost hit home. "My mother started to cry and my father looked at me and said, 'This was what you wanted, right?' I just felt so bad about it," he says, repeating a story he relates on his show. But now, when pressed, he goes further, reflecting on what seems a guilt-inducing comment. "No, my dad was a good guy," Morgerman insists quietly. "He was showing me there's two sides to this passion I had."
That blend of cold fascination and empathy are evident in "Hurricane Man," in which Morgerman travels to where hurricanes are to hit and chronicles them from the inside with three camera crews. One follows him as he records barometric pressure and other data, which he gives freely to scientists. Another stays with a family that has chosen not to evacuate, while a third embeds with first responders.
"It's a crazy lifestyle," Morgerman concedes of his dangerous storm-chasing, which he does in addition to being co-founder of the 20-year-old West Hollywood brand-advertising agency Symblaze. "I'm constantly racing to the airport at 1 a.m. for a flight to Manila or Tokyo or Mexico," he says. "Half the time I don't know where I'm going to end up because it depends on where the center of the storm is going to be."
On Sept. 1, that meant Great Abaco Island, Bahamas, where he and others "rode out the storm [Hurricane Dorian] in a solid concrete school on a hill, a designated shelter." And even that was damaged so badly by 185 mile-an-hour winds that during the calm eye, "we had to pile into the few cars not destroyed and make it to a government building to ride out the second half of the storm," through roads blocked by wreckage and debris. He spent days chronicling the aftermath, speaking to survivors "who saw people die in front of their eyes."
Born in Manhattan, the son of a late civil engineer-turned mediator, Gary, and his homemaker wife, Marion, Morgerman moved with his family to Huntington for kindergarten. After graduating from Huntington High in 1988, he earned a history degree at Harvard.
Now his lifelong vocation comes to the screen in longer form than the news footage he sells to producers. "Hurricane Man" will, he hopes, "put some healthy fear of hurricanes in people's hearts. I think that's a good thing. Fear drives preparedness."