Here’s the story behind that incredible Hurricane Florence webcam
Richard Neal’s YouTube video was drawing tens of thousands of viewers Thursday. But it didn’t feature any big stars, splashy visuals, or infectious tunes.
The star of the livestream was an American flag, and the soundtrack was the Stars and Stripes whipping in the wind — surely on the verge of being totally shredded — as potentially devastating Hurricane Florence churned through the ocean in the background.
Neal, 58, a Charlotte, N.C., software developer, is the owner of Frying Pan Tower, a former Coast Guard light station 32 miles southeast of Wilmington, N.C.
He says he wanted to be there for Florence, but he was on land Thursday morning.
“I just had to [stay ashore] for work,” he said in a telephone interview. “I really wanted to be out there.”
As of about 4 p.m., more than 120,000 people were simultaneously watching the webcam on the tower, as the flag frayed and the seas seethed. And comments were pouring in. “Man, I hope everyone is off that thing!” commented one person. “The flag will be gone in the morning,” said another.
At various times through the day, the cable news networks displayed pictures of the lonely banner.
The camera, funded by the nature webcam network explore.org, is on the light station’s tower, about 110 to 115 feet up, Neal said.
The tower rises to 133 feet. The square deck of the station, which people have said resembles a pizza box, contains eight bedrooms and is about 90 feet high.
Neal said the light station was built in the 1960s and the Coast Guard stopped using it in the late 1970s. He bought it for $85,000 in 2010, and for a while he operated it as a B and B.
Now he’s selling 32 shares in it for anybody who wants to get on a boat or a helicopter and adventure out to spend some time on a tower in the middle of the ocean.
Neal said he has stayed aboard the tower during other hurricanes, including Arthur, Matthew, and Sandy.
Arthur hit while Neal and his family were inside. During the storm a window “blew in, but we all got together and put a big piece of steel over it. Then we went back to eating dinner,” he told WFAE-FM in Charlotte.
While a hurricane on land can send objects dangerously flying through the air, he said Thursday morning that out on the ocean, “You don’t worry about that out there. It’s just rain and wind.” You do need to put on goggles, though, he said, noting that the wind-whipped rain “feels like bee stings.”
Rather than hampering sales of shares in the tower, he said, the hurricane shows the durability of the structure off to potential customers. “I think this will help tremendously,” he said.
Neal’s webcam is among a handful that offer dramatic ive views of the ferocity of the storm.
Asked how it felt to have the eyes of the world on his tower — or looking through his webcam — Neal was philosophical. “We’re really exciting for about one day of the year. That’s OK,” he said.
John R. Ellement of the Globe staff contributed to this report.