NASA Uses Drones to Storm Chase, Study Hurricanes - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

NASA Uses Drones to Storm Chase, Study Hurricanes

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WALLOPS ISLAND, Va.- A NASA aircraft took off from the Wallops Flight Facility on Tuesday morning and headed straight for a massive dust storm off the coast of Africa.

NASA is flying a former military Global Hawk drone directly into a hurricane to storm chase.

Global Hawk project manager Chris Naftel has been with the project since the planning-stage. He, along with two other scientists, led a panel discussion on NASA's Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel mission at the Wallops Flight Facility. 

"So really the purpose is to give people a warning of what's going to happen," said Naftel as he spoke about how data collected from previous missions could help thousands of people who live along the East Coast. He believes information gathered by the drones would allow scientists to better predict potential threats. 

"We [NASA scientists] can hopefully, over time, start to narrow that area, where we expect the hurricane to exactly hit," he said. "So fewer people are impacted by it."

The drones are flown above the storms in the Atlantic Ocean. There, they collect data using a variety of tools. One of which is a dropsonde, a paper towel roll-sized tube with a parachute and GPS sensors inside that can tell scientists its exact position.

Nearly, a year after Superstorm Sandy, much of Delmarva is still piecing things back together. Hurricanes cause an average of $10 billion worth of damage each year, according to NASA. Finding out how hurricanes work is a mystery some scientists hope to unravel.

Research planes from the U.S. couldn't reach the Eastern Atlantic Ocean, until the Global Hawks were added to NASA's arsenal, according to NASA. 

NASA's unmanned aircraft can fly for up to 30 hours, and are piloted in shifts by controllers back on the ground.

Although scientists said this has been a "relatively quiet hurricane season" so far, they have collected some information that will improve next year's forecast.

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