We've all marveled at NOAA's birds-eye images of tightly spun hurricanes, but have you ever wondered how it looks on the roiling seas?
A 23-foot Saildrone Explorer, an unmanned surface vehicle (USV) used for research, collected live video in September of Category 4 Hurricane Sam churning in the Atlantic. At the time, the saildrone was experiencing winds gusting over 120 mph and waves up to 50 feet. Saildrone claims it's the first video footage of conditions inside a Category 4 hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean.
By sailing into the eye of a hurricane, Saildrone is gathering data that will deepen understanding of powerful storms, says Richard Jenkins, Saildrone founder and CEO. "After conquering the Arctic and the Southern Ocean, hurricanes were the last frontier for Saildrone survivability," he said of the USV.
Predominantly powered by wind and solar, the Saildrone's "hurricane wing" enables it to operate in extreme wind conditions. As part of the mission, a partnership between Saildrone and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), five vehicles were deployed to collect data immediately before and during a hurricane.
"Using data collected by Saildrones, we expect to improve forecast models that predict rapid intensification of hurricanes," says Greg Foltz, a NOAA scientist. "New data from Saildrones and other uncrewed systems NOAA is using will help us better predict the forces that drive hurricanes and be able to warn communities earlier."
The vehicles were deployed in June from Jacksonville, Florida, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. They are stationed in five key areas of the Atlantic Ocean that have historically seen a large number of storms.