NASA scientists are using former military surveillance drones — not to peer into people’s lives, but to help save them! They will use these drones to help better understand how tropical storms intensify, which could ultimately save lives by helping to improve forecast models that predict hurricane strength.
The unmanned aircraft, Global Hawk, was designed to perform high-altitude, long-endurance reconnaissance and intelligence missions for the U.S. Air Force. Two of the first Global Hawks developed for the military are now being used in NASA’s research mission, studying storms that form over the Atlantic Ocean. This is the second year NASA has launched Global Hawks from the Eastern Shore of Virginia. This location enables the drones to spend plenty of time studying storms that form off the coast of Africa or as they approach from the Caribbean Sea or the Gulf of Mexico.
“The biggest scientific question we’re trying to attack is why do some hurricanes intensify very rapidly and why do others not intensify at all? In the last 20 years, we’ve made terrific progress in forecasting where hurricane tracks will go,” said Paul Newman, deputy project scientist for the research mission. “But we’ve made almost no progress in the past 20 years in forecasting intensity.”
There are two questions NASA scientists would like to answer with this drone research. One is, what role thunderstorms within a hurricane play in its intensification. The other is, what role the Saharan Air Layer plays in the tropical storm development.
Being able to more accurately predict a storm’s intensity would help government officials and coastal residents decide whether an evacuation is needed as well as address a false sense of security among residents who frequently cite failed storm forecasts as a reason not to leave their homes.
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The WeatherBug – Earth Networks Team