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Drones sail in Caribbean, Atlantic to better understand hurricanes

They almost look like a cross between a sailboat and a surfboard, but this watercraft is built for labor not leisure.

NEW ORLEANS — A new technology designed to help weather forecasters better understand and predict hurricanes —sail drones— are being used in the Atlantic and Caribbean to help the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to better understand how storms develop and rapidly intensify.

They almost look like a cross between a sailboat and a surfboard, but sail drones aren't used for leisure. Their purpose is to hunt hurricanes to give forecasters more data from the surface of the ocean.

"It's a very economical solution to scientific data gathering," Brain Connon, vice president of ocean mapping with Saildrone said.

Connon said the drones collect data in real-time, including air & sea surface temperatures, relative humidity and wave height — important information all gathered without risking human life.

“We tell the drone where to go via satellite communications, and it sails itself over there — and hopefully, it gets run over by a hurricane," Connon said.

Where hurricane hunters in the air collect important information, data from the sea level has been harder to come by.

"Hurricane Hunters do a great job of pinpointing the eye, giving us those wind speeds, same thing with satellite imagery," Cannon said. "But we still don’t really understand the physics of what’s happening between the ocean and the hurricane itself."

WWLTV Local Weather Expert and Chief Meteorologist Chris Franklin said having this data from the surface will also help forecast if a storm will rapidly intensify.

“If you get that more complete data at the surface of the storm, you will get that real-time data, and you may in real-time see that a storm is indeed rapidly intensifying," Franklin said. "As that more complete data is entered into computer models, the computer models should then before accurate with their forecasts."

Powered by sunlight or wind, the drones can withstand hurricane-force winds and 10-foot waves, and they can travel up to 50 miles a day.