FL - Sailing (Back) into the Eye of the Hurricane

Last summer, Saildrone and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) sent five uncrewed surface vehicles (USVs) “storm chasing” the Atlantic Ocean to improve hurricane forecasting. One of them sailed through the eye of category 4 Hurricane Sam. Battling massive waves and winds over 100 mph, the vehicle not only survived intact but sent back the first-ever live video footage from inside the eye of the storm, marking a new era of hurricane observation.

This year, Saildrone will collect critical data from both the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico expanding the potential impact of the mission. This week, supported by NOAA’s Global Ocean Monitoring and Observing Program, two vehicles were deployed into the Gulf—one from Saildrone’s Ocean Mapping Headquarters in St. Petersburg, FL, and one from Port Aransas, TX. Earlier this month, the other five vehicles were deployed into the Tropical Atlantic from Jacksonville, FL, and the US Virgin Islands.

“We are excited to expand this effort to collect vital data in both the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. We opened our Florida office earlier this year to support exactly this kind of mission, as well as our goal of mapping the entire sea floor around Florida,” said Saildrone CEO Richard Jenkins. “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.”

NOAA predicts an above-average 2022 hurricane season, with up to 21 named storms and three to six major hurricanes. Hurricanes don’t only present a persistent threat to human safety in coastal cities, they also present a significant economic impact—hurricane damage in the US is estimated at around $54 billion annually.

Hurricane track forecasting has steadily improved in recent years but one of the biggest challenges that still remains is predicting rapid intensification—when wind speeds increase at least 35 mph over a 24-hour period.

“This season, NOAA will work with numerous partners to gather oceanic and atmospheric observations using a suite of platforms to monitor the conditions that play a role in hurricane intensity changes,” said John Cortinas, Director of NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML). “Storms that intensify rapidly can cause extensive damage and loss of life and real-time observing systems are crucial to better understanding the atmospheric and oceanic processes that lead to the formation and intensification of these hurricanes.”

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