Hurricane Idalia made landfall in the Florida Panhandle on August 30th after a period of rapid intensification due, at least in part, to the record-setting warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico. Wind speeds increased over 55 MPH in 24 hours, something climatologists had worried could happen and meteorologists were anticipating.
Technology used to track storms and learn from them has rapidly advance in recent years, primarily when it comes to radar and forecasting models. But it is the Saildrone, from Bay Area-based Saildrone, Inc., that has led to the video footage below.
Their Saildrone is a 23-foot sailboat-shaped drone that was sent into the Gulf of Mexico in anticipation of hurricane season. And it recently captured what it’s like to be on boat during a major hurricane. The footage itself is on par with what many expect being on a boat during a hurricane to be like:
The Saildrone recorded sustained winds of over 62 MPH (54.31 knots), gusts to 100 MPH, and wave heights of over 31 feet (9.6 meters). It isn’t clear what the bursts of light are in the sky. My assumption is lightning but it could be any number of things.
What makes the Saildrone such a vital piece of equipment, on top of showing us what it’s like to be on a boat during a hurricane, is that it can take measurements no other piece of equipment can.
NOAA’s oceanographer and science lead for the agency’s Saildrone hurricane team, Greg Foltz, told TampaBay “The key here is we can steer these Saildrones into the strongest parts of hurricanes and get measurements that nothing else can.” Specifically, it is measuring where the wind meeds the water, a set of measurements that wasn’t available to scientists until now.
A fleet of strategically placed oceanographic instruments gathered temperature, salinity, and surface wind speed data, while #NOAA’s Hurricane Hunter aircraft repeatedly flew into Hurricanes Franklin & Idalia collecting atmospheric data. More: https://t.co/Luah8YPfoo @saildrone pic.twitter.com/v4KtGhDUeO
— NOAA Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Lab (@NOAA_AOML) September 7, 2023
In Southwest Florida, most residents were fortunate to escape damage. But the lingering stress from Hurricane Ian’s direct impact last year had everyone in this region on edge up until the point the storm passed by in the Gulf of Mexico. It would seem impossible to measure the impact of that stress on an entire region of Florida but it’s a very real phenomenon myself and fellow Southwest Florida residents will experience for years to come.