First-ever sailing hurricane drones launched into Gulf of Mexico

After successful 2021 hurricane season, Saildrone continues its mission to make coastal communities safer

Courtesy National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Photographer David Hall. (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA))

Orlando, FLA. – Meteorologists collect hurricane data through various sources, like aircraft and ships, but the new age of uncrewed data collectors continues to expand from air to sea.

Last season we introduced you to ALTIUS, a hurricane hunting drone that is released from a NOAA hurricane hunter aircraft into the most dangerous parts of the storm. And although it remains experimental for the 2022 hurricane season, it is a step forward in advancing research technology without the risk of human life.

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Last season, there was another successful launch of an uncrewed storm-chasing drone, and this time, it was on the water, named Saildrone. In the 2021 season, researchers partnered with NOAA to send five Saildrones into the Atlantic Ocean, with one of them successfully sailing in and out of the eyewall of Hurricane Sam (Category 4). Not only did it survive the journey, but it was also able to send back the first-ever live video footage from inside the eye where it experienced 100-foot waves and winds of 140 mph.

This year, seven Saildrones will be sent out strategically in zone where they have the best chance to cross the path of a hurricane. Five will be sent into the Atlantic, and for the first time, two will be stationed in the Gulf of Mexico.

A simple map showing a rough outline of the operation areas during the 2022 Atlantic Hurricane mission. One Saildrone will be assigned to each op area. (Saildrone)

Along with understanding the interaction zone between the ocean and a hurricane, the Saildrone will also mapping the entire sea floor around Florida.

“Combining in situ ocean data with a better understanding of the ocean floor, will help us predict both storm intensity and storm surges, keeping our coastal communities safer from these destructive events.” Saildrone CEO Richard Jenkins said.

These seven Saildrones will be joining an array of other ocean focused data collectors, like underwater gliders, surface drifters, and profiling floats along with support from the sky like areal drones and NOAA aircraft.

NOAA will use several autonomous instruments this hurricane season to collect ocean and atmospheric data during during hurricanes. Credit: NOAA PMEL

“These exciting emerging technologies provide NOAA with another valuable tool that can collect data in places we can’t get to with other observing systems.” said Capt. Philip Hall, director of NOAA’s Uncrewed Systems Operations Center.

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Candace Campos joined the News 6 weather team in 2015.