Glider helps analyze hurricanes in third year

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Saildrone has continued sending its unmanned sailboats into hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean this year. Collecting important information that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Hurricane Center use to collect storm observations in a relatively new way.

KXAN Meteorologist Nick Panin spoke with Cristina Castillo, Senior Program Manager for Ocean Data at Saildrone about what they’ve been able to accomplish in the company’s third year of operation.

SailDrones allow scientists to sail into the heart of hurricanes (Courtesy: SailDrone)

Meteorologist Nick Panin: Christina, for those who are not familiar, remind our audience what a Saildrone is and what its mission is?

Cristina Castillo, Senior Director of the Ocean Data Program at Saildrone: Yes, Saildrone is a company based in Alameda, California. We design, build and operate unmanned surface vehicles (UCVs). We call them Saildrone and Saildrones are highly maneuverable, primarily solar- and wind-powered vehicles designed to collect data in the open ocean. They are highly customizable, and can be equipped with many different types of sensors depending on the mission. So, we do work that ranges from meteorology, oceanography and fisheries research, as well as ocean mapping and ocean security applications. Our overarching mission is to collect data that will help make our oceans healthier and safer.

Other: Speaking of some of this data, it’s been an active hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean, what has Saildrone been able to analyze and study this year?

Castillo: Yes, this is the third year of our partnership with NOAA on the Atlantic Hurricane Mission. Essentially, we’re sending Saildrones out to try to intercept hurricanes to gather really important information at the air-land interface. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) uses a lot of different tools to study hurricanes, they use things like more buoys, airplanes, and even underwater gliders. But one of the reasons they’re so interested in Saildrones is because we’re the only platform where you can sail directly into the path of a growing hurricane, and that’s why they’re so interested in using our platform.

FILE – In this file photo released by the U.S. Navy, a Saildrone Explorer naval drone navigates the Gulf of Aqaba on Feb. 9, 2022. The U.S. Navy conducted a joint drone exercise with the United Kingdom on Friday, Oct. 7, 2022, in the Gulf Al Arabi, the same unmanned surveillance ships called Saildrone Explorers that Iran has seized twice in recent months will be tested in the Middle East. (Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class Dawson Roth/U.S. Navy via AP, File)

Other: How does your technology help NOAA, the National Hurricane Center? Anyone interested in what a hurricane is doing or where it’s going next?

Castillo: Yes, so we provide the data to NOAA scientists, and these researchers analyze the data to help understand the hurricane’s intensity. You have to remember that although forecasting the path of hurricanes has improved over the past few years, understanding the prediction of this rapid intensification is still a challenge. And so they’re using this data, you know, to better understand this process and hopefully improve intensification forecasts… NOAA researchers have analyzed the Saildrone data to really help improve hurricane intensity prediction models, but they’ve also made this data available For forecasting centers around the world. The world, including the National Hurricane Center. In fact, the National Hurricane Center recently included data from our gliders and several public warnings issued with Tropical Storm Idalia.

Other: Do NOAA and the National Hurricane Center advise you where to send your glider because of the area they are most concerned about? How does this cooperation work?

Castillo: Yes, so we work with NOAA scientists, many months in advance of hurricane season to position ourselves in places that have historically seen a lot of hurricane and tropical storm activity. And so we were in a very good position this year to intercept Hurricane Franklin with three of our gliders. We also intercepted Hurricane Idalia with four of our gliders, one of which actually passed through Idalia’s eye wall before making landfall in Florida. We were also able to make observations using three drone gliders after Idalia returned east over the Atlantic Ocean.

Other: How maneuverable is it? If you think you’re going to miss the eye, but you want to intercept it, how quickly can you get into position?

Castillo: Well, I want to remind everyone that these things are driven entirely by wind. So it just depends on the environmental conditions. But obviously high winds can help reach the site faster.

Other: I heard there’s a world record that Saildrone is a part of and it’s featured in the latest edition of the Guinness World Records. Can you tell us about that?

Castillo: Yes, Saildrone was recently listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for the highest wind speed recorded by an unmanned surface vehicle. This was measured by SD 1045 in 2021. It measured wind speeds of 126.4 mph.

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