AUSTIN (KXAN) — Saildrone continued sending its unmanned sailboats into hurricanes in the Atlantic this year. The company is gathering critical information about storm observations in a relatively new way for usage by NOAA and the National Hurricane Center.
KXAN meteorologist Nick Bannin spoke with Christina Castillo, a Senior Program Manager for ocean data at Saildrone, about what they were able to accomplish in the company’s third year of operation.
Meteorologist Nick Bannin: Christina, for those not familiar remind our audience what Saildrone is and what is its mission?
Christina Castillo, Senior Program Manager for Ocean Data at Saildrone: Yeah, so Saildrone is a company based out of Alameda, California. And we design, build and operate uncrewed surface vehicles (UCVs). We call them Saildrone and Saildrones are highly maneuverable, primarily wind and solar powered vehicles that are designed for data collection on the open ocean. They are highly customizable, and they can be outfitted with many different kinds of sensors depending on what the mission is. So we do work ranging from meteorological and oceanographic research to fisheries research, as well as ocean mapping and ocean security applications. And our overall mission is to really collect data that will help make our oceans healthier and safer.
Bannin: Speaking of some of that data, it’s been an active hurricane season in the Atlantic, what has Saildrone been able to analyze and study this year?
Castillo: Yeah, so this is actually our third year partnering with NOAA on the Atlantic hurricane mission. And essentially, we are sending Saildrones out to try and intercept hurricanes to collect really important information at the air-sea interface. NOAA uses a lot of different tools to study hurricanes, they use things like more buoys, aircraft, even underwater gliders. But one of the reasons that they are so interested in Saildrones is that we are the only platform you can sail directly into the path of an intensifying hurricane and that is why they’re so interested in using our platform.
Bannin: How does your technology help NOAA, the National Hurricane Center? Anyone who’s interested in what a hurricane is doing or where it’s going next?
Castillo: Yeah, so we provide the data to NOAA scientists, and those researchers are analyzing the data to really help understand hurricane intensification. You have to remember that while over the past several years hurricane track forecasting has improved, understanding of predicting that rapid intensification is still a challenge. And so they’re using that data to, you know, better understand that process and hopefully improve that intensification forecast…NOAA researchers analyzed Saildrone data to really help improve hurricane intensity forecast models, but they also make this data available to forecast centers around the world, including the National Hurricane Center. And in fact, the National Hurricane Center recently included data from our Saildrones and several of the public advisories that went out with Tropical Storm Idalia.
Bannin: Does NOAA and the National Hurricane Center, do they guide you where to send the Saildrone because of an area that they’re most interested in? How does that collaboration work?
Castillo: Yeah, so we work with NOAA scientists, many months before the hurricane season to really position ourselves in places where there’s historically been a lot of hurricane and tropical storm activity. And so we were very well positioned this year to intercept hurricane Franklin with three of our Saildrones. We also intercepted hurricane Idalia with four of our Saildrones, one actually went through the eyewall of Idalia before it made landfall in Florida. And we also were able to make observations with three sail drones after Idalia headed back east over the Atlantic.
Bannin: How maneuverable are these if you think you’re gonna miss the eye, but you want to intercept it, how quickly can you get in position?
Castillo: Well, I want to remind everyone that these are completely wind propelled. And so it really just depends on environmental conditions. But obviously, with high winds that can aid in in getting to a location faster.
Bannin: I hear that there was a world record that Saildrone is a part of and appeared in the latest edition of a Guinness Book of World Records. Can you tell us about that?
Castillo: Yeah, so Saildrone was just recently recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records for the highest wind speed recorded by an uncrewed surface vehicle. And that was measured by SD 1045 back in 2021. And it measured wind speeds of 126.4 miles per hour.