A floating drone sent into the heart of Hurricane Sam, an enormous Category 4 storm churning in the Atlantic Ocean, is offering scientists the first views of conditions at the water’s surface from inside a major hurricane.
Violent, roiling waves swept up by more than 120 mph winds can be seen battering the ocean drone in a video released Thursday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The ominous footage was captured by the robotic vehicle called Saildrone Explorer SD 1045, as it cruised slightly northeast of the eye of the storm.
NOAA said these types of drones will help researchers improve storm forecasts by allowing them to study how hurricanes evolve and why some storms strengthen so quickly.
“Rapid intensification, when hurricane winds strengthen in a matter of hours, is a serious threat to coastal communities,” Greg Foltz, an oceanographer at NOAA, said in a statement. “New data from saildrones and other uncrewed systems that NOAA is using will help us better predict the forces that drive hurricanes and be able to warn communities earlier.”
The vehicle was developed by a California-based company called Saildrone Inc., which deployed a fleet of five research drones in the Atlantic Ocean this hurricane season. The Explorer is outfitted with a “hurricane wing” that the company said enables the vehicle to operate in tumultuous, stormy conditions in the open ocean.
The drone is expected to continue providing real-time data to NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory and the agency’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory.
“Saildrone is going where no research vessel has ever ventured, sailing right into the eye of the hurricane, gathering data that will transform our understanding of these powerful storms,” Richard Jenkins, Saildrone’s founder and CEO, said in a statement.
Hurricane Sam is roaring across the Atlantic Ocean, and while the storm’s path is expected to skirt away from the Atlantic coast of the United States and Canada, the region could experience strong winds and rain in the coming days.