NASA Will Fly Drone for Hurricane Study

WASHINGTON, Aug. 10 (UPI) — NASA scientists say an unmanned drone will help them discover the relationship between lightning and tropical storms to help in hurricane forecasting.

Any change in intensity in a tropical cyclone is often accompanied by increases in lightning strikes, but whether more lightning meant the storm was strengthening or weakening has long eluded researchers, reported Monday.

NASA says it plans to use a remotely piloted Global Hawk airplane — the same drone model flown by the U.S. Air Force — equipped with a Lightning Instrument Package to give an unprecedented, sustained look at the inner workings of hurricanes.

“The availability of the Global Hawk makes this a very exciting and unique experiment,” NASA study team leader Ramesh Kakar said.

The drone, which can fly for up to 20 hours, will carry the LIP over the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean at an altitude of more than 60,000 feet for 40 days during August and September.

“We’ll be able to see a storm in a way we’ve never seen it before,” said LIP team leader Richard Blakeslee at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

“We’ll see how the storm develops over the long term, and how lightning varies with all the other things going on inside a hurricane,” he said.

“It’s the difference between a single photograph and a full-length movie.”

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