At the heart of Category 4 Hurricane Fiona, a robotic surfboard managed to brave intensifying ocean swells and strengthening winds to capture rare footage from inside the hurricane.
Video from the ocean drone, driven by scientists from the company Saildrone and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, captured about 360 miles southeast of Bermuda, depicts haunting blue water and monstrous waves, serenaded by howling winds. Torrential rain and ominous sea spray are seen swirling as the vehicle sways and lunges atop the ocean’s turbulent surface.
The Saildrone Explorer SD 1078 was in the best position to capture the never-before-seen footage from inside Fiona, the first Category 4 hurricane of the year, with wave heights of near 50 feet and winds over 100 mph on Thursday.
The vehicle was steered into Fiona as the storm barreled north in the Atlantic Ocean.
“[Saildrones are] giving us a completely new view of one of Earth’s most destructive forces,” Saildrone said in a news release.
Four Saildrones have interacted with the storm, starting Sunday evening when it was still a tropical storm east of Montserrat. The storm then intensified into a Category 1 hurricane, colliding with a Saildrone stationed south of Puerto Rico, where Fiona first made landfall. Saildrone sent out its vehicles at the beginning of hurricane season to collect critical scientific data in the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.
This is the second year Saildrone has deployed hurricane-equipped units into the Atlantic with the goal of obtaining measurements and footage as close to the eye of the hurricane as possible. The company manufactures and designs autonomous surface vehicles that collect ocean data to deepen the understanding of hurricanes, map the ocean floor and track diverse ecosystems below the surface.
The California-based company boasts that its units have sailed over 800,00 nautical miles and have spent over 18,000 days at sea collecting climate and ocean mapping data.
“Saildrone is once again demonstrating its ability to provide critical ocean data in the most extreme weather. Hurricane Fiona intensified from a tropical storm to a Category 1 hurricane just before hitting Puerto Rico, causing significant damage and loss of life,” said Richard Jenkins, Saildrone founder and CEO.
“The data Saildrone vehicles are gathering will help the science community better understand rapid intensification, giving people living in our coastal communities more time to prepare.”
In 2021, scientists from Saildrone and NOAA drove Saildrone United 1045 into Category 4 Hurricane Sam and collected the first-ever video from inside the hurricane.
The partnership between NOAA and Saildrone is a part of a larger endeavor to understand the development of hurricanes and how they intensify.
“Uncrewed systems in the air, on the ocean surface, and underwater and aircraft systems have the potential to transform how NOAA meets its mission to better understand the environment,” said Capt. Philip Hall, director of NOAA’s Uncrewed Systems Operations Center.
NOAA Hurricane Hunter aircraft and weather buoys gather operational weather observations that are essential to hurricane forecasts.