eye on the storm

Unmanned drones the new thing in hurricane forecasting

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MIAMI, Fla. (WNCN) – What’s next in hurricane forecasting is unmanned drones.

Navy pilot and NOAA officer Justin Kibbey has an exciting job flying the P-3 Hurricane Hunter but it’s in the back of the plane where new science is being developed.

Animation of NOAA unmanned drone.

“It’s a very unique instrument that we launch from the plane,” Kibbey said. “It’s flown from the plane and we’re able to fly with that drone for almost an hour gathering valuable data.”

Raytheon originally developed the Coyote Drone for military surveillance, but now equipped with various sensors and a GPS device, it’s used to send real-time data to NOAA’s Hurricane Research Division.

“The drone is great because it can go down to the low levels of the storm, just off the surface in that air-sea interaction zone where there’s lots of valuable data,” Kibbey said. “To put a plane in that zone would be very dangerous.”

The drone falls out of the aircraft and its wings open at a predetermined altitude.

“It’s dropping straight down and the wings will open up,” Kibbey said. “As it’s able to get some wind over its wings, the engine will turn on and it will eventually start to fly.”

Currently, the drones are in a testing phase but the NOAA hopes to have them fully operational and integrated in the next few years.

“Improving that forecast track and that intensity is very important,” Kibbey said.

Each drone costs $25,000 and their missions are one and done. In other words, the drones are not recovered from the ocean.

Kibbey said that while the instruments may be expensive it’s a lot cheaper than going through the process of getting people evacuated out of an area and keeping them out of harm’s way.

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