How a hurricane hunting drone can help inform

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Government scientists know what it’s like to look a hurricane in the eye. They’ve already done this during countless storms by flying hurricane-chasing planes and deploying sensors to gauge the strength of the hurricane.

But for some members of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Hurricane Ian was the roughest hurricane flight they’ve ever experienced.

Hurricane Ian made landfall in southwest Florida as a major Category 4 hurricane, just short of Category 5, as one of the strongest hurricanes ever to hit the US

The rides are often bumpy and loud. But there’s one place even fighter-tested aircraft and barf-bag-resistant scientists can’t get to. The boundary layer is located at 3,000 feet where the air and the ocean meet—considered to be a tumultuous cauldron of wind and salt water.

Joseph Cione, chief meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told Ben Tracy, CBS News senior national and environmental correspondent, that it’s imperative they find a way down there — by any means possible.

“We still need to get there. That’s the thing. We can’t avoid it. ‘Oh, it’s too dangerous. We can’t go there.’ Well, we as humans may not get there, but we can take our technology there and send that data back to be used,” Cione said.

One way to get information from the boundary layer is to use an unmanned drone that can fly in and around the largest gusts of wind.

Dubbed “The Altius 600,” the drone weighs about 25 pounds and can fly for nearly four hours — retrieving data in real time.

When the drone is deployed, its job is to detect changes in intensity in the storm.

The concern of scientists and prognosticators is the rapid intensification. A hurricane’s rapid intensification may give coastal communities little time to prepare.

A recent example of a rapidly intensifying hurricane is Hurricane Harvey. In 2017, Hurricane Harvey went from a Category 1 to a Category 4 hurricane in just 24 hours before making landfall in the United States.

Research shows Atlantic hurricanes are now strengthening faster, likely due to warmer ocean waters climate change. Earth’s warmer atmosphere means they also hold more water, and rising ocean levels can make storms even more destructive.

It is this knowledge and data gathered from hurricane hunters that has helped millions of people Floridians in their decision to evacuatemaybe save lives.

“By having these observations that we wouldn’t otherwise have, we can tell forecasters and emergency managers who are making these life-and-death decisions, whether to evacuate or not, if the storm is as strong or weaker than you think,” Cione said .

It also helps forecasters on the ground predict where the usually unpredictable hurricane might go, and the data collected could help prepare for the next big storm.

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