Scientists are always looking for new ways to probe and investigate severe weather. For obvious reasons, they prefer to do their research without risking their lives. That's where UAVs come in.
In 2013, NASA began a program for investigating tropical storms, hoping to find better understanding of why some systems turn into killer hurricanes, while others peter out. For these missions, the researchers selected enormous Global Hawk drones, which have a wingspan as wide as a 737 and can fly for 28 straight hours at a maximum of 60,000 feet (18.3 kilometers), which is much higher than most piloted planes.
Equipped with scientific instruments, the drones provide a constant stream of data regarding atmospheric conditions and storm intensity. Those instruments include a scanning high-resolution interferometer sounder instrument and Cloud Physics Lidar, as well as a dropsonde system from the National Oceanographic and Atmosphere Association.
Together, these tools stream data about layered temperatures within a storm, cloud structure and more, providing scientists with a look at the internal structure of a weather system. Weather has many variables that affect storm strength, but thanks in part to drones, researchers are getting a better view -- and better understanding -- of just how all of the pieces go together.