Life ain’t easy for a boat in the middle of a Category 4 hurricane.
We know this because a Category 4 storm named “Sam” is currently barreling west across the Atlantic Ocean. And inside that hurricane is an uncrewed drone boat that’s packed with scientific instruments and taking the ride of its life. (Forecasters expect Sam to miss the U.S. East Coast.)
Video captured by the vessel and released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Thursday shows it battling 50 foot waves and 120 mph wind gusts.
The 23-foot long, 15-foot tall uncrewed surface vehicle (USV) was manufactured by Saildrone Inc., NOAA’s partner in the effort, to withstand just this kind of abuse.
The company told HuffPost the boat, a wind-propelled Saildrone Explorer, has a six-foot lead keel to roll the USV back upright after it’s knocked over, as has happened numerous times in Hurricane Sam.
The first-of-its-kind footage was collected alongside other meteorological and oceanographic data, including water and air temperature, barometric pressure, dissolved oxygen, and wind speed and direction.
That data is essential for NOAA to build more accurate models depicting how hurricanes develop.
“Using data collected by saildrones, we expect to improve forecast models that predict rapid intensification of hurricanes,” Greg Foltz, a NOAA scientist, said in a release. “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.”
A total of five saildrones are currently plying regions of the Atlantic Ocean that historically see large numbers of storms, collecting data for NOAA using solar-powered instruments. The boats are designed for missions of up to 12 months.
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