The Saildrone Explorer SD 1078 is in the best position to capture unprecedented footage of the interior of Fiona, the first Category 4 hurricane of the year, with wave heights approaching 50 feet on Thursday and winds in excess of 100 mph.
The vehicle was steered into Fiona as the storm blew north in the Atlantic.
“[Saildrones are] Gives us a whole new perspective on one of the most destructive forces on Earth,” Saildrone said in a news release.
Four Saildrones interacted with the storm starting Sunday night when it was still a tropical storm east of Montserrat. The storm then intensified to a Category 1 hurricane and collided with a Saildrone stationed in southern Puerto Rico, where Fiona first made landfall. Saildrone dispatches vehicles at the start of hurricane season to collect vital scientific data in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.
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This is the second year that Saildrone has deployed hurricane-equipped units to the Atlantic Ocean, with the goal of getting measurements and footage as close to the eye of the hurricane as possible. The company builds and designs autonomous surface vehicles that collect ocean data to better understand hurricanes, map the ocean floor and track various ecosystems below the surface.
The California-based company boasts that its units have sailed more than 800,000 nautical miles and collected more than 18,000 days of climate and oceanographic mapping data at sea.
“Saildrone has once again demonstrated its ability to provide critical ocean data in the most extreme weather. Hurricane Fiona was upgraded from a tropical storm to a Category 1 hurricane before hitting Puerto Rico, causing significant damage and loss of life,” Saildrone Founder and CEO Richard Jenkins said.
“The data the Saildrone vehicle is collecting will help the scientific community better understand the rapidly intensifying situation, giving people living in our coastal communities more time to prepare.”
In 2021, scientists from Saildrone and NOAA piloted a Saildrone United 1045 into Category 4 Hurricane Sam and collected the first video from inside the hurricane.
Scientists drive robotic surfboard into Hurricane Sam with incredible waves
The partnership between NOAA and Saildrone is part of a larger effort to understand how hurricanes develop and intensify.
“Unmanned systems in air, sea, underwater and aircraft systems have the potential to change how NOAA fulfills its mission to better understand the environment,” the captain said. Philip Hall, director of NOAA’s Center for Unmanned Systems Operations.
NOAA Hurricane Hunter aircraft and weather buoys collect operational meteorological observations critical to hurricane forecasting.