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Climate Scientists Are 'Hunting' Hurricanes With Specialized Drones

Properly monitoring hurricanes is now more important than ever. 2020's Atlantic hurricane season was quite literally a disaster (like the rest of the year?). Record after record fell as a new wave of unprecedented storms bombarded North and Central America.

The brutal hurricane season brought 30 named tropical storms, 13 hurricanes, and six significant hurricanes; the highest on record, the second-highest on record, and another second-highest on record, respectively. The season brought with it economic loss, fatalities, and crippling damage to infrastructure throughout the region. According to reports, this season was 73% more active than usual. Even though the season is now over, the wounds from these significant storms are still very fresh. Overall, hurricanes appear to be getting stronger.

In a study published on Nature, climate experts have stated that as the world warms from the effects of climate change, North Atlantic hurricanes will retain far more of their strength when they hit land. This, in turn, tends to lead to more destruction and fatalities. This "perfect storm" has led to the increased use of technologically advanced instruments for tracking and predicting hurricanes. Drones are emerging as a useful tool for climate scientists on the hunt for hurricanes. 

Drones could be the future of data collection

Climate scientists and meteorologists have been adopting drone technology in recent years too. Researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) believe that one-day drones may become a regular part of hurricane forecasting. In a paper published as recently as 2019, the NOAA demonstrated how disposable drones could gather data from a hurricane's lower eyewall — the most dangerous part of a hurricane. 

Real-time data from a hurricane's lower eyewall could prove to be extremely useful to meteorologists. This area indicates how strongly and quickly a storm will develop. A better understanding of the eyewall would allow forecasters to gather a more accurate picture of how a hurricane is progressing and could use this data to improve their forecasting model with higher accuracy in real-time. Crewed flights into this part of the storm are out of the question as this area of the hurricane has some of the strongest winds.

Since 2005, and in collaboration with Raytheon, NOAA has been developing drones capable of temporarily flying through the turbulent winds of a hurricane. Since around 2016, Raytheon's Coyote fixed-wing drones have been used to track important weather measurements like temperatures, pressure, wind speed, wind direction, humidity, and sea surface temperature. 

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