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NASA Launches Drones To Study Storms

Update Date: Sep 12, 2013 09:33 AM EDT

NASA scientists are using former military surveillance drones to help them understand more about how tropics storms intensify. They believe that the study can ultimately save lives by improving the accuracy of the forecast.

NASA has taken over two of the original Global Hawks aircrafts which were designed to perform high-altitude, long endurance reconnaissance and intelligence missions for the Air Force. NASA has already planned to launch one of the two drones from its Wallops Flight Facility on Wednesday to study Tropical Storm Gabrielle, which was re-formed in the Atlantic on Tuesday.

“The biggest scientific question we’re trying to attack is why do some hurricanes intensify very rapidly and why do others not intensify at all? In the last 20 years, we’ve made terrific progress in forecasting where hurricane tracks will go,” said Paul Newman, deputy project scientist for the research mission. “But we’ve made almost no progress in the past 20 years in forecasting intensity, ” he also added.

The research will be primarily focused on two questions. First is what role thunderstorms within the hurricane play in its intensification. Second question involves the role of Saharan Air Layers in the tropical storm development.

Drones are considered as more advantageous over manned aircraft because they can fly for much longer periods of time and at much greater altitudes.

“As a Hurricane Hunter goes through a storm, they get very detailed information,” Newman said. “Imagine that this (Global Hawk) will do kind of a cat scan of a hurricane, but Hurricane Hunters go in and it’s like you’re using a fine scalpel to look at the details of the patient, if you will.”

NASA scientists believe the mission will end later this month and that they will find enough data to start addressing questions being raised.

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