Saildrone captures towering waves inside Hurricane Idalia

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on Thursday released a video showing images from a glider floating inside Hurricane Idalia as it moved across the Atlantic Ocean on August 29, providing forecasters with real-time data inside the storm.

“We’re very excited,” Greg Foltz, chief of science at NOAA Saildrone, told FOX Weather. “We’ve been doing this for about three years. We’ve caught them in several hurricanes and gotten really good data.”

Gliders are unmanned, solar- and wind-powered surface vehicles that collect data when cruising in the open ocean, according to Saildrone, Inc. It uses historical storm tracks to strategically place drones in the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea.

New video from Saildrone 1083 has been shown inside Hurricane Idalia, providing an inside look at the storm. Images taken from the car show the rise and fall of the dark gray-blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean amidst 31-foot-high waves with a backdrop of dense clouds obscuring the horizon.

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The churning waters tilt the Saildrone back and forth, giving viewers a peek into the energy within Idalia. The drone survived for nine hours in tropical storm force winds.

On August 29, the glider passed through the north side of Idalia’s eye wall and then into the eye of the hurricane itself. According to NOAA, the craft then passed through the southern eyewall, all while several probes were deployed above the glider from a NOAA P-3 aircraft.

It’s all about striving for better hurricane forecasts.

“The idea is to get that data, analyze it, do scientific research and improve prediction models,” Fultz said. “And also putting this data into forecast centers in real time so that it goes into forecast models, and they can use it in hurricane intensity forecasts.”

Idalia is not their first success. In their first year of research two years ago, they were able to place a drone in the middle of a toxic Category 4 hurricane. This year, they sent a record number of drones out to sea, peppering the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean with drones, hoping to be better positioned to find more storms.

Two gliders were able to reach Hurricane Franklin while it was in the North Atlantic Ocean, while another passed the eye of Idalia while it was in the Gulf of Mexico.

“We didn’t really have to move it much, just some fine tuning to get past the center of that storm,” Fultz said. Two other drones off South Carolina were able to experience what was then Tropical Storm Idalia at its exit off the southeast coast.

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Foltz says drones are well-positioned to sample Hurricane Lee as the monster storm slowly makes its way north off the East Coast this week.

“We have some Saildrones lined up along the western track, and in the next few days we have a really good chance of getting them into the eyewall — maybe when it’s still (Category) 5,” he said.

All data collected will be sent in real time to the National Hurricane Center and all other international forecast centers, plus it will be available to any forecast model that is run.

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