TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Atmospheric scientists are always looking for new ways to study tropical storms and hurricanes. For the first time, technology has evolved so much that a new floating drone can venture right into the middle of the storm, all on its own.

Saildrones collect all kinds of data and are studying how a hurricane draws its energy from the sea. Scientists also hope this research will help predict when a tropical system will rapidly intensify.

They are fully autonomous traveling through the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. They are powered by wind and solar energy meaning they can stay out on missions for months at a time on their own. They sail into the path of a storm and let the storm move over top of the them. Saildrones collect data from just above, just below and right at the ocean’s surface before, during and after a storm passes through.

“What you’re getting from the Saildrone is data – not just the atmosphere but the ocean underneath,” said Dr. Michael Brennan, a hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center.

He says there is still a lot to learn from tropical systems and, “any kind of data you can collect in that ‘right at the surface’ environment is really helpful in terms of just understanding in what the storm is doing and how it’s going to evolve.”

“It really does something that we haven’t been able to do before,” said Dr. Greg Foltz, a NOAA Oceanographer.

He said these Saildrones are sophisticated laboratories that can go where nothing else can, and survive that environment.

“We showed that last hurricane season. We did it for the first time sending one of these into a Category 4 hurricane and it survived and gave us really good data, continuously. That’s the key,” Foltz said.

It sailed right into major Hurricane Sam in 2021, successfully battling 150 mph winds and 50-foot waves.

The camera recorded the entire encounter while 12 onboard sensors collected data like air and water temperatures, surfaces pressures and salinity to name a few. The information was reported back in real time and imported right into the forecast models.

“That helps improve the models and makes the forecast models better, especially the intensity, we’re really aiming at the intensity forecasts,” Foltz said.

Five Saildrones are in use this season, sailing into and out of hurricanes on their own, collecting valuable data that will be used in the forecast models and in future research.