Unmanned submarines to help improve hurricane forecasts this season

Yellow NOAA submarine vessels called "hurricane gliders" will be key to predicting more accurate hurricane forecasts this season.

The gliders are being deployed right now in the Caribbean, The Gulf of Mexico and Mid-Atlantic. The devices are unmanned autonomous vehicles that can swim underneath the ocean for an extended period of time to collect data.

Grant Rawson, Senior Research Associate for NOAA at the University of Miami says from the air, it is easy to track the path of a hurricane. However, gathering data underwater allows them to better measure intensity.

“Traditionally, hurricanes have been studied from the atmosphere, so they use airplanes and satellites and they can get really good data from what a hurricane is doing in the air," he said, "but historically, we haven’t been able to collect data from underneath the hurricane in the ocean because you don’t want to be out there in a boat trying to collect samples when there’s a hurricane close by."

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The data gathered with the device will allow for more accurate hurricane forecasts. Rawson said this is important to maintain public confidence.


“So if they think it’s going to be a Category 5, we can trust and say, ‘it’s going to be a 5 and we need to evacuate.’ The last thing we want is to say it’s a 5, and it ends up being a 3. And then what happens is that maybe people don’t trust the future forecasts. So it’s important to get the forecast as accurate as possible,” Rawson said.

The gliders are well made. They can withstand a hurricane, and Rawson said one even survived a shark attack.

“We were surprised to see a shark attacked it,” Rawson said. “And I guess it didn’t find it very tasty so it spit it back out and we kept on going.”