Add this one to the "pros" section on the drones list. In August, NASA will begin using unmanned drones to gather data on and study hurricanes:
The Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel (HS3) is a five-year mission specifically targeted to investigate the processes that underlie hurricane formation and intensity change in the Atlantic Ocean basin.
The NASA Global Hawk UASs are ideal platforms for investigations of hurricanes, capable of flight altitudes greater than 55,000 ft and flight durations of up to 30 h. HS3 will utilize two Global Hawks, one with an instrument suite geared toward measurement of the environment and the other with instruments suited to inner-core structure and processes.
This is great news for the meteorological world and science geeks everywhere. Up until now, we've had limited ways to study hurricanes. We use satellites to get an estimate of structure and intensity most of the time, and as storms approach the coast, the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron (the "Hurricane Hunters" division) of the US Air Force will fly an aircraft into the strongest parts of the tropical system to gather crucial data on its intensity and structure. Aside from satellites and the Hurricane Hunters, there are very sparse weather observations from ships in the vicinity of a storm, and if the storm gets close enough to a country with a Doppler weather radar, we're able to get a pretty detailed look at the storm's structure.
With the introduction of these "hurricane drones" in August, NASA and NOAA will have a new way to study hurricanes. Researching what causes some hurricanes to grow into monsters and others to peter out will ultimately lead to better forecasting accuracy during a hurricane, which is crucial in light of the fact that 53% of Americans live in counties/parishes that border a coastline.