The wrath of Hurricane Sam – the most powerful storm currently on Earth – was on full display Thursday after an unmanned ‘saildrone’ recorded winds of 145mph and 50-foot-tall waves as it churned in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
It’s the first time such footage has been captured by a water-based drone from the ocean surface in the middle of such a ferocious weather system, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which operated the device.
The drone is equipped with a specially designed ‘hurricane wing,’ enabling it to operate in extreme wind conditions.
Saildrone’s vessels are 23 feet long and have four cameras on them. They are able to measure wind as well as the temperature of the ocean and the air.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has released footage from the inside of Hurricane Sam, a Category 4 storm barreling across the Atlantic
A Saildrone Explorer SD 1045, an uncrewed surface vehicle, was able to get into the center of the storm with 145mph winds and 50 foot waves
The footage offers an unprecedented sight of a hurricane in the ocean
The current track for Sam shows it is expected to stay far away from land out in open ocean
The tracks of all this season’s Atlantic named storms are displayed on this map
Hurricane Sam was located about 350 miles east of the northern Leeward Islands, traveling northwest at 9 mph, the Miami-based hurricane center said late Thursday night.
It is not supposed to threaten the East Coast but could brush up against Bermuda.
Hurricane-force winds were extending outward 40 miles from its center, with top winds expected to grow to 140 mph in the coming days. The storm is expected to turn to the north by Friday.
The Saildrone also captured weather-related data which can be used by forecasters and scientist as they better try to understand how such ferocious storms form and continue to evolve.
Scientists are particularly interested in finding out more about the exchange of heat between the sea and atmosphere as a way of better predicting the intensity of hurricanes.
Using data collected by saildrones, we expect to improve forecast models that predict rapid intensification of hurricanes,’ said Greg Foltz, an NOAA scientist.
Saildrone collects data to help forecasters form models and give meteorologists insights into how large and destructive cyclones grow and intensify
‘Rapid intensification, when hurricane winds strengthen in a matter of hours, is a serious threat to coastal communities. 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 autonomous unmanned vessels are staying out in the ocean for a total of three months and will be relaying measurements of heat exchanges between the ocean and atmosphere — the fuel that strengthens hurricanes — that before now had to be collected in person.
The program offers a completely different level of data because it is measuring readings at the surface, compared to ‘hurricane hunters’ who normally fly aircraft directly into the eye of the storm.
It’s the first time such footage has been captured by a water-based drone from the ocean surface in the middle of such a weather system
Despite being thrashed about by the elements, the drone manages to stay upright throughout
‘The Saildrone battled Hurricane Sam’s 50-foot waves and 120+ mph winds to collect critical scientific data and give us a brand new view of one of earth’s most destructive forces,’ the NOAA revealed in a tweet.
Saildrone launched two 23-foot Explorer drones that will travel corridors of the Atlantic Ocean through October.
The drones are slow, moving no more than a few miles per hour on their wind-powered propulsion systems.
But the idea is for the drones to work continuously, collecting data about normal ocean conditions in categories ranging from currents, temperatures, wind speeds and barometric pressure to dissolved oxygen, carbon levels and wave heights.
When a hurricane develops, the drones are designed to be able to steer straight into it, recording the storm with high-resolution cameras mounted on wings built to withstand punishing winds and waves that can weigh hundreds of tons.
Vessels with crews regularly leave the paths of hurricanes to avoid disasters like the 2015 sinking of the cargo ship El Faro, which killed 33 mariners sailing from Jacksonville to Puerto Rico.
NOAA officials said a three-month window from August until October was chosen to get the best results within their $1.1 million contract with Saildrone
Between the Explorer Drones’ everyday readings and data collected in the storm, boosters expect the drones to give hurricane researchers new insights that can’t be gathered from hurricane-hunting surveillance planes.
‘All we can measure from planes is pressure,’ said Saildrone founder and CEO Richard Jenkins.
‘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. After conquering the Arctic and Southern Ocean, hurricanes were the last frontier for Saildrone survivability. We are proud to have engineered a vehicle capable of operating in the most extreme weather conditions on earth,’ Jenkins said to the NOAA.
The drones will work in tandem with underwater ‘gliders’ that NOAA uses to track water conditions as deep as 1,000 feet below the surface, Foltz said. By gathering information at surface level and far beneath, scientists are hoping to have a fuller picture of what happens in the water column during hurricane season.
Explorers have been used before in harsh settings including winter seas off the Pacific Northwest and a trip measuring more than 13,500 miles to circumnavigate Antarctica.
The drones have operated at sea for longer than a year before, but NOAA officials said a three-month window from August until October was chosen to get the best results within their $1.1 million contract with Saildrone.
The water based drones give information that can’t otherwise be gathered from hurricane-hunting surveillance planes, pictured