Has anyone ever thought of whether a drone could be useful in the study of hurricanes? Well, a team of scientists in East Tennessee are using a drone nicknamed “Coyote” to gain a deeper understanding regarding hurricanes. With Hurricane Laura approaching the US coasts, this technique could be employed to know more information about it. It may sound a little unbelievable that drones could record information regarding hurricanes. Still, the same has been confirmed by Ron Dobosy, who has retired from Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU) and is also an atmospheric scientist.
Dobosy went on to say, “It is exciting because there’s an area in a hurricane that if you go there, you don’t live to tell about it. It’s underneath the eyewall, low altitude over the ocean. These aircraft are designed to go there.” SUAS Pilot Ed Dumas, along with Dobosy, were part of a group of scientists who standardized and enhanced the tools essential for “Coyote.”
The “Coyote” drone has been tried and tested during Hurricane Maria that hit Puerto Rico in September 2017. It was also tried during Hurricane Michael that was again a powerful category 5 hurricane to hit the US in 2018. Now, how did these drones reach the hurricane? Well, many Coyotes were thrown out from an aircraft to gain a lot of knowledge regarding these hurricanes from within the stormy boundary layer covering the eye of the hurricane.
And as per the expectations of the scientists, these drones could collect a lot of information regarding the hurricanes, information of the sort that no one had witnessed before. These Coyotes captured all vital parameters related to the hurricane-like direction of the wind and its speed and the pressure and the sea temperature.
When inquired on how equipped these drones were to tolerate these severe storms, Dobosy said, “It can control itself in very severe turbulence as we found out. At least, to a point. Of course, we lost every one of them, mostly because they plunged into the sea. We were running destructive tests.”
The drones getting lost into the sea were quite predictable, and everything went as per the plan. It was part of the design, states Dumas. He further added they are still studying the data that was procured by these Coyotes in 2018. He went on to say, “A very good data set, like the ones we’re talking about, we can spend years looking at this data after the fact and continue to make improvements in the forecasting and predictions for current models and current hurricanes.”
Although meteorologists can predict the location, which could likely bear a hurricane’s brunt, estimating its intensity is a different thing altogether, and it could be quite challenging too. Once the intensity of a hurricane is known, there can be better preparedness. Dobosy feels like drones like “Coyotes” have been designed to reach the most intense areas within a hurricane and calculate all the important aspects related to the storm.
Presently, drones are undergoing a lot of upgradations. Dobosy says he would love to see them within the eyes of some of the strongest hurricanes during the next hurricane season.
Over the past few years, many deadly hurricanes have struck the United States. The country is currently gearing up to face Hurricane Laura, which is again predicted to be a deadly storm.