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Riders on the storm

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Drone planes are being used not just for military and law enforcement surveillance. The unmanned aircraft are flying high to advance science as well.

NASA this month has sent a drone called a “Global Hawk” from the East Coast over the Atlantic Ocean to study hurricanes.

The operation, which involves two drones, is called the “Hurricane Severe Storm Sentinel Mission” and will run through mid-October, USA Today reported.

The aircraft can soar above 60,000 feet, five times higher than reconnaissance planes used for the same purpose.

Although well above the storm, the drone’s equipment can study the hurricane all the way down to sea level.

The drones can fly up to 12,600 miles, half of the Earth’s circumference, for up to 31 hours. That enables the technology to take a good look at hurricanes and record the results.

“We’re trying to look at which aspects of the environment control the development and intensification of hurricanes,” said NASA research meteorologist Scott Braun. One specific assignment is to study how dust from the Sahara Desert affects hurricanes. Winds can blow the desert dust all the way across the Atlantic. Scientists want to know whether it helps or hinders hurricanes.

“This is a project of global significance,” said NASA’s Bernadette Luna. “Our planet is changing. We hope to learn what makes a hurricane intensify, and better predict if it will intensify. That tells people how to respond.”

The high-flying drones play a key role in that effort.

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