(CNN) — Hurricane hunters have been flying inside hurricanes for more than 50 years, collecting data. They've been tossed around and risked their lives for the sake of hurricane research and keeping communities safe.
Now they have a new partner, which will be on the water with eyes inside the storm from sea level. Yes, riding the waves beneath major hurricanes, experiencing conditions on the sea no human could endure.
In a world first, a @saildrone has captured video from inside a hurricane.— NOAA Research (@NOAAResearch) September 30, 2021
The Saildrone battled Hurricane #Sam's 50-ft waves and 120+ mph winds to collect critical scientific data and give us a brand new view of one of earth’s most destructive forces. https://t.co/vWHJUo1y2r pic.twitter.com/gO22wBhua2
It's called a Saildrone, and its technology has reinvented the way we see the inside of hurricanes.
Saildrone Inc. has partnered with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to better study hurricanes and the environment around them.
"What drives the intensity of the hurricanes is the transfer of heat and moisture from the ocean to atmosphere and the dynamics of how that occurs isn't well-understood," said Richard Jenkins, founder and CEO of Saildrone Inc. "So if we can measure how much is in the ocean and understand the physical principles of how that heat is transferred, that's the piece the models are missing."
By better understanding the surface data around the storm as well as within it, they hope they will be able to provide crucial data to help better understand the environment in which hurricanes form, as well as how they rapidly intensify.
Their hope is the data they collect will help hurricane forecasts in the future.
A 23-foot Saildrone can stay out to sea for up to a year. The vehicle is wind-powered and its instruments are solar-powered, giving it the ability to enter some of Earth's most hostile environments.
The drones have already been used for mapping the ocean floor in Florida to help with storm surge forecasts and climate change missions, and now they are navigating the high seas for hurricane research.
This hurricane season, five Saildrones were placed in the Atlantic in locations predetermined by NOAA, where they would have the best shot at sampling a hurricane.
When Hurricane Sam became Saildrone's first hurricane mission, NOAA released the first-ever video from an uncrewed surface vehicle from inside a major hurricane.
"It was larger than we expected and hoped for but it was a great success. We emerged unscathed from that storm, which was a huge achievement from an engineering standpoint," said Jenkins.
Sam was a Category 4 hurricane at the time of the mission, which left the Saildrone battling 50-foot waves and winds of more than 120 mph.
The Saildrone's "hurricane wing" enables the vessel to navigate extreme winds and waves.
The Saildrone mission will continue. It is hoped to expand the program and eventually have Saildrones in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico to sample storms and provide critical data from the surface of the storm, to supplement information gathered by the hurricane hunters who will continue to fly through them.
Many times the Saildrones will be sailing just beneath the hurricane planes.
"Both are vital," said Jenkins. "The planes are trying to get an accurate pressure reading from the center of the storm, which they do very well. We are trying to get surface dynamics. We get about 20 additional measurements that include the air and sea integration principles that are crucial to the future understanding of hurricanes. So we are getting different kinds of variables."
Hopefully the data will help improve forecasts in the future, ultimately saving lives from monster hurricanes and catastrophic flooding.
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