An ERAU meteorology professor will drop a drone into Hurricane Ian to obtain data


A professor from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University will find himself in the eye of the storm – literally – on Wednesday.

As Hurricane Ian moves north over the Gulf of Mexico toward Florida, Josh Wadler will be aboard the “Hurricane Hunter”, NOAA’s Lockheed WP-3D Orion aircraft in the interest of science.

Wadler, an assistant professor of meteorology, and his colleagues, mostly NOAA scientists, will launch a drone into Ian’s strong winds to capture data to help predict future hurricanes.

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In a telephone interview Tuesday, Wadler told the News-Journal that he was excited but not scared by the first deployment of the Altius-600 unmanned aerial system in an actual storm.

Josh Wader

“It definitely takes a step back,” he said. “We have a lot of respect for the (Hurricane Hunter) crew. They train all year round for safety and the flight plans are designed to maximize safety and protect human life. sure than being on the ground.”

While excited, he feels a “mixture of emotions”, knowing that the storm is life threatening and can cause great damage.

Wadler anticipates the Altius-6000 will help identify where the storm will make landfall and use that data to help protect people and property. The drone was built and equipped to fly low, in the boundary layer for long durations during a hurricane.

The boundary layer is of great interest to meteorologists, but is too dangerous for manned aircraft such as the Hurricane Hunter.

NOAA's Lockheed WP-3D Orion aircraft, nicknamed the

The drone will be able to capture data such as wind direction, atmospheric pressure, temperature, humidity and potential turbulence, he said.

“By dropping the drone in this hurricane, we can use the data to help build better models to predict future hurricanes. Our interest is to go after data to help our forecasting capabilities,” Wadler said.

He told ERAU’s information and marketing team that the data will help meteorologists focus on predicting changes in hurricane intensity.

“Ian is a particularly interesting example of changes in intensity: it started out as a tropical depression and then quickly intensified,” he said.

The Altius-600 is designed to collect information over a wider area than current technology, called dropsondes.

Joseph Cione, chief meteorologist for the Hurricane Research Division of NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, said in a 2021 press release that dropsondes provide “snapshots” of weather conditions, while drones will offer an image closer to a film.

“The deployment of the NOAA Hurricane Hunters unmanned aircraft will ultimately help us better detect changes in the intensity and overall pattern of hurricanes,” Cione said. “Ultimately, these new observations could help emergency managers make informed decisions about evacuations before tropical cyclones make landfall.” notes that scientists have long performed manned reconnaissance of storms through old-fashioned “hurricane hunting.”

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