Hurricane drones heading into Gulf of Mexico for the first time

hurricane drone saildrone

Remember Saildrone, the California company that made history by sending an ocean drone into the eye of a hurricane? It is again launching a fleet of ocean drones to collect critical hurricane data to make coastal communities safer.

With the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research as its partner, Saildrone is sending seven ocean drones into the Atlantic Ocean and, for the first time ever, the Gulf of Mexico. These drones will brave the treacherous hurricane season to collect unparalleled insights into how destructive hurricanes can become and how fast they can intensify.

The saildrones will transmit meteorological and oceanographic in situ data in real time including air temperature and relative humidity, barometric pressure, wind speed and direction, water temperature and salinity, sea surface temperature, and wave height and duration. NOAA will use this data to improve hurricane forecast models.

The work is important because one storm is all it takes to devastate a community. And NOAA has predicted an above-average 2022 hurricane season, with up to 21 named storms and three to six major hurricanes.

As such, an improvement in storm forecasting becomes a critical factor for better preparedness in coastal cities — something which could help to reduce the loss to human life and property.

Read: How Reuben Wu used DJI drones to put Stonehenge on NatGeo’s cover

Last year, Saildrone’s uncrewed surface vessels proved their mettle by sailing through the eyewall of Category 4 Hurricane Sam. This time around, the potential impact of the company’s mission is expanding. Saildrone CEO Richard Jenkins explains:

Combining in situ ocean data with a better understanding of the ocean floor, will help us predict both storm intensity and storm surges, keeping our coastal communities safer from these destructive events. We are excited to expand this effort to collect vital data in both the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. We opened our Florida office earlier this year to support exactly this kind of mission, as well as our goal of mapping the entire sea floor around Florida.

It should be highlighted that the seven saildrones are a part of a larger NOAA endeavor to understand hurricane intensification. They will join an array of underwater gliders, surface drifters, profiling floats, and aerial assets to collectively gain deeper insight than ever before into the development of these killer storms. 

Capt. Philip Hall, director of NOAA’s Uncrewed Systems Operations Center, says:

Uncrewed marine and aircraft systems have the potential to transform how NOAA meets its mission to better understand the environment. These exciting emerging technologies provide NOAA with another valuable tool that can collect data in places we can’t get to with other observing systems.

Read: American Water secures FAA waiver for 4-mile BVLOS drone flights


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