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Ocean-Surfing Drone Sends Back Eerie Video From Inside Hurricane Fiona

The powerful Category 4 storm is making its way across the Atlantic as a Saildrone investigates it from sea level.

An orange drone ship floats on quiet ocean waves.
Saildrone Explorer SD 1045 explored the insides of major Hurricane Sam in 2021. SD 1078 is a similar drone.
Saildrone/NOAA

It's tempting to ascribe human characteristics of bravery and fearlessness to Saildrone Explorer SD 1078, an uncrewed wave-rider that dove into the heart of the devastating Hurricane Fiona in the Atlantic Ocean this week. SD 1078 sent back stomach-flipping footage of massive, churning waves on Thursday.

Autonomous ocean vehicle company Saildrone shared two versions of the video captured as the drone battled 50-foot (15-meter) waves and winds in excess of 100 mph (160 km/h). Fiona strengthened into a Category 4 storm this week, meaning it was generating sustained winds of over 130 mph (209 km/h).

In the second video, one side of the screen shows a top-down look at the hurricane's movement, with the drone's location marked near the eye. The other side shows the heaving footage from the drone's camera.  

Saildrone is working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to monitor and study severe storms in a new way. It's been the norm to send brave airplane crews into hurricanes, but Saildrones can get a different perspective by surfing at sea level. 

"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," said Saildrone founder Richard Jenkins in a statement on Thursday.  

Saildrone is operating seven drones in the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico this season. Last year, a Saildrone delivered the first footage gathered by an uncrewed surface vehicle (USV) from inside a major Atlantic hurricane when it sent back video from Hurricane Sam.  

Fiona already walloped Puerto Rico and the Dominic Republic, causing extreme flooding and knocking out power. On Thursday, the National Hurricane Center warned of impacts to Bermuda. The storm could reach Atlantic Canada by Friday.  

Research has linked the human-caused climate crisis to more extreme and destructive hurricanes. Scientists need all the data they can get on the formation, intensification and movement of hurricanes as they seek to protect human life.