Studying hurricanes goes from planes to drones

Flying planes into storms has been used since 1943

By Elizabeth Hart - Meteorologist
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9. Last Island Hurricane (1856) -- This Category 4 storm destroyed Louisiana's Last Island, a popular tourist destination, and killed an estimated 400 people.

ORLANDO, Fla. - Launching drones into hurricanes may put an end to a method of study that has been used since 1943--flying planes.

On July 27, 1943, an air force pilot flew an A-T-6 Texan plane into a hurricane with 125-mile winds, and upon his return, a meteorologist demanded he take him into the storm, too. Forecasters have since realized that flying into storms can save the lives of others because the path and intensity can be predicted, allowing enough time to prepare.

Ever since, planes have been flown into hurricanes. Today's hurricane hunter is the P-3D Orion Aircraft.

Beginning in 1851, the first year records were kept, at least 10,000 people died in Florida hurricanes and tropical storms. Most of those deaths happened before the study of storms, though. For example, the Okeechobee Hurricane in 1928 killed 2,000 people, compared to Florida's most recent deadly hurricane, Charley in 2004, which killed 9.

This summer, though, a handful of drones that can spiral in a hurricane for hours will be launched during the peak of hurricane season. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is behind the $1.25-million project.

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