While we can usually forecast where a hurricane will travel, it’s hard to predict how strong a storm will get. That’s why NOAA and Saildrone are sending a fleet of seafaring drones into the Atlantic ocean this hurricane season. The drones will sail headfirst into hurricanes, taking measurements that may help us understand the storms’ growth patterns.
Hurricanes occur when warm ocean water evaporates and gets replaced by cool air, leading to a growth cycle that’s difficult to predict. That’s unfortunate, because climate change is steadily increasing the intensity of hurricanes, making predictions more important than ever before.
Saildrones may be our ticket to learning more about hurricanes, as they’re remote-controlled and durable enough to withstand intense wind. NOAA and Saildrone want to place a bunch of the 23-foot robots in the Atlantic, where they can chase down any hurricanes that begin to form.
The robots will drive toward the eye of any storm they encounter, taking measurements along the way. While we don’t know exactly what the drones will measure, scientists at NOAA seem most interested in how energy transfers from ocean water to hurricanes.
Saildrone’s founder, Richard Jenkins, expects the drones to sustain damage while fulfilling their task. In his words, “we’re going to break things and we’re going to learn.” Most of this damage will come from raging waters, not from wind.
NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center expects an active hurricane season this year—hurricane season began June 1st, by the way. Now’s a good time to review a hurricane preparedness checklist if you live in a vulnerable area.