NASA scientists plan to launch one of two military surveillance drones Wednesday to study Tropical Storm Gabrielle, which struck Bermuda early Wednesday.
The agency announced in May it would add two unmanned Global Hawk aircrafts to monitor storms during the hurricane season between Aug. 20 and Sept. 23. The drones, developed by Northrop Grumman, have logged 100,000 flight hours since their first Air Force flights in 1998.
Scientists hope the drone use will answer what role thunderstorms play in tropical storm development and help government officials and coastal residents plan evacuations. This is the second year NASA has launched Global Hawks to study tropical storms.
"The biggest scientific question we're trying to attack is why do some hurricanes intensify very rapidly and why do others not intensify at all? In the last 20 years, we've made terrific progress in forecasting where hurricane tracks will go," Paul Newman, deputy project scientist for the research mission, told the Associated Press. "But we've made almost no progress in the past 20 years in forecasting intensity."
Gabrielle, which battered Bermuda with heavy winds and rain Wednesday morning, is currently stationary, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm is expected to creep northwest later today through Thursday. The Center expects the storm to cut through the Canadian Maritime provinces this weekend.
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Humberto, which picked up steam off the western coast of Africa, became the first hurricane of the season Wednesday morning. The Category 1 hurricane fell just three hours short of becoming the latest first recorded hurricane of the season. The record is held by Hurricane Gustav, which developed into a hurricane shortly after 8 a.m. EDT on Sept. 11, 2002. Humberto is expected to continue moving northbound, with winds reaching maximum speeds of nearly 80 mph.