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A Hurricane Weather Probe Designed As A Kamikaze Drone

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s GALE probe is lean, mean, and ready to die for science.

A Hurricane Weather Probe Designed As A Kamikaze Drone

We need to get better at predicting the paths of hurricanes, because god knows we’re only gonna see more of them as the 21st century wears on. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says that “anthropogenic warming [i.e., climate change] by the end of the 21st century will likely cause hurricanes globally to be more intense on average . . . [and] will likely cause hurricanes to have substantially higher rainfall rates than present-day hurricanes.” The only way to get the data we need to track these suckers more effectively is to get sensors right above the waterline, right in the middle of the hurricane itself. Not exactly an easy task, but NOAA’s new GALE drone will be able to take one for the team–it’s basically a missile packed with science instruments, designed to die but not before returning the best information possible about the force of nature that kills it.

The biggest advantage of GALE’s design is its (relative) disposability. The probes are only three feet long, weigh eight pounds, and cost a paltry $30,000 each–pocket change to the U.S. government. Their missile-like shape lets them be blasted into a hurricane from a P-3 Orion aircraft, and then piloted by remote for about 90 minutes before they runs out of gas and pitch into the sea or–more likely–get pulverized when they hit the eyewall, the rim surrounding the hurricane’s eye where wind and rain are at their most intense. But by flying just 100 feet above the water, GALE can collect information about temperature, pressure, and wind speeds with great detail, and zap it back to home base before going kablooey. Kind of like Slim Pickens, but for science.


About the author

John Pavlus is a writer and filmmaker focusing on science, tech, and design topics. His writing has appeared in Wired, New York, Scientific American, Technology Review, BBC Future, and other outlets.



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