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Unmanned aircraft readies to sample Atlantic hurricanes
Monica Allen

Unmanned aircraft readies to sample Atlantic hurricanes

NASA Global Hawk arrives on Virginia coast for NOAA hurricane flights

The NASA Global Hawk unmanned aircraft touched down Friday morning at NASA Wallops Flight Facility on the Virginia coast where NOAA and NASA scientists are preparing it for flights over Atlantic hurricanes.

“We’ll be using the Global Hawk to sample weather data from tropical storms as they develop this season,” said Robbie Hood, director of NOAA’s Unmanned Aircraft System Program. “We’re studying the value of using data collected by this unique plane to improve hurricane track and intensity forecasts.”

This is the second year of NOAA’s Sensing Hazards with Operational Unmanned Technology or SHOUT,  a three-year research project with NASA to evaluate the benefits of using the unmanned aircraft in routine operations to improve severe storm forecasts. Initially funded by Congress after Hurricane Sandy, the research also looks at whether unmanned aircraft can fill data gaps if there are problems with weather satellites.

Preliminary analysis of data collected by the Global Hawk last hurricane season during Tropical Storm Erika is showing promise.

Flying higher and longer

Flying higher and longer

NOAA uses the NASA Global Hawk to sample hurricanes from high above and for long periods of time. The unmanned aircraft can fly nearly twice as high as manned aircraft and for 24 hours. (NASA)

“We looked at how adding Global Hawk data affected hurricane forecast models and found that combining satellite data that gives a broad picture of a storm in a particular area with more granular data on wind speed, moisture and temperature from the Global Hawk in the same area can improve forecasts,” said Robert Atlas, Ph.D., director of NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Lab in Miami, who added that more data and analysis is needed.

Able to fly higher and for longer periods of time than manned aircraft, the Global Hawk can stay with a storm as it develops, providing more detail on the evolution of a storm from its very beginnings as it builds off the coast of Africa to its strengthening, weakening and changing over time.

NOAA’s SHOUT flights with the Global Hawk build on capabilities pioneered by NASA in previous research campaigns.

This season, the SHOUT team will look for fairly significant storms that allow multiple flights and more extensive data gathering. “Our skill in forecasting hurricane track has been improving steadily due to better data from satellites, improved models and higher speed computing for forecast models, but we still need improved understanding of the mechanisms that cause hurricanes to intensify rapidly,” Hood said. “Predicting this more accurately would help save lives and property.”

For more information on SHOUT go to:

Contact: Monica Allen, director of public affairs, NOAA Research, 301-734-1123 or by email at

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Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) - or "NOAA Research" - provides the research foundation for understanding the complex systems that support our planet. Working in partnership with other organizational units of the NOAA, a bureau of the Department of Commerce, NOAA Research enables better forecasts, earlier warnings for natural disasters, and a greater understanding of the Earth. Our role is to provide unbiased science to better manage the environment, nationally, and globally.


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