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An unmanned drone has returned incredible footage of its intercept of Hurricane Fiona, a Category 4 hurricane, as it barrels across the Atlantic Ocean towards Bermuda.
The footage was captured Thursday by an uncrewed surface vehicle (USV) operated by U.S.-based Saildrone, Inc. and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Known as Saildrone Explorer SD 1078, the USV was directed into the path of Hurricane Fiona where it battled 50-foot waves and winds over 100 mph to gather scientific data. While inside the storm, SD 1078 travelled at sustained speeds over 9 mph, but at one point it hit 39.7 mph while surfing down a massive wave.
Fiona is the first Category 4 storm of the 2022 season and is currently on a path northward in the Atlantic Ocean and is predicted to impact Bermuda on Thursday night and the Canadian province of Nova Scotia on Friday.
The Fiona footage released today by Saildrone is now the second from inside a major hurricane. Last year, a Saildrone USV spent 24 hours inside Category 4 Hurricane Sam, sending back high-resolution video and images in near real time.
SD 1078 is actually one of seven “hurricane” saildrones deployed in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico this hurricane season to gather data that will help forecasters better understand the physical processes of hurricanes.
“Saildrone is once again demonstrating its ability to provide critical ocean data in the most extreme weather conditions. Hurricane Fiona intensified from a tropical storm to a Category 1 hurricane just before hitting Puerto Rico, causing significant damage and loss of life,” said Richard Jenkins, Saildrone founder and CEO. “The data Saildrone vehicles are gathering will help the science community better understand rapid intensification, giving people living in our coastal communities more time to prepare.”
As of Thursday SD 1078 was about 315 nm southwest of Bermuda near the eye of Fiona.
SD 1078 is now the fourth USV in the Saildrone fleet to engage with Fiona. The storm was still a tropical storm when it passed over SD 1083, stationed 400 nm east of Montserrat. Fiona then continued on a trajectory due west and had strengthened to a Category 1 as it passed over SD 1031, stationed just south of Puerto Rico, where Fiona first made landfall. The vehicle recorded waves up to 46 feet high and wind speeds over 70 mph, which dropped abruptly to as low as 10 mph when entering in the eye of the storm—where it recorded a minimum central pressure of 986 mb. A fourth Saildrone, stationed north of Puerto Rico, recorded wind speeds over 60 mph and 40-foot waves on the edge of the storm.
As of 2 p.m. Eastern, the NWS National Hurricane reports that the center of Hurricane Fiona was located about 345 miles west-southwest of Bermuda packing maximum sustained winds are near 130 mph, making it a major category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. Little change in strength is expected today as Fiona passes just to the west of Bermuda tonight. Forecasts are calling for some weakening starting tonight or Friday as it approaches Nova Scotia and into the Gulf of St. Lawrence on Saturday. Fiona is forecast be a large and powerful post-tropical cyclone with hurricane-force winds when it moves over Nova Scotia Friday night and Saturday.
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