NASA Global Hawk alerts NOAA National Weather Service of Gaston’s Intensification

First time Global Hawk data used to upgrade a tropical storm to hurricane

Global Hawk

Thursday, August 25, 2016

For the first time, NOAA’s National Weather Service National Hurricane Center used real-time weather data from the NASA Global Hawk unmanned aircraft to upgrade a tropical storm to a hurricane in the early morning hours Thursday. While the Hurricane Center recently downgraded Gaston back to a tropical storm, the most recent forecast also notes it could intensify again on Saturday.

“The NASA Global Hawk can fly over a tropical cyclone at 60,000 feet and provide a full three-dimensional picture of storm structure,” said Gary Wick, Ph.D., NOAA project scientist for the Global Hawk experiment. “We are glad that our research mission can provide direct support to forecasters at the National Hurricane Center.”

Global Hawk View

Photo taken by a camera mounted on the nose of the Global Hawk unmanned aircraft as it takes off on Wednesday, Aug. 24, at NASA Wallops Flight Facility at dawn. (NASA Global Hawk)


The key data was collected by a dropsonde, a small instrument dropped from an aircraft that measures tropical storm conditions as it descends to the surface of the ocean. The dropsonde then transmits the data to a satellite which relays it in real time to the National Hurricane Center.

The Global Hawk took this important data from the 75th dropsonde out of 84 dropped from the plane during a 24-hour flight. The National Hurricane Center evaluated the data to upgrade Gaston to be the third hurricane of the season at 12:15 AM ET on Thursday. The data indicated that Gaston had strengthened to a hurricane with wind speeds estimated to be 75 miles per hour. In its latest report Thursday afternoon, the National Hurricane Center downgraded Gaston to a tropical storm, but noted the storm in the Central Atlantic 1160 miles east-northeast of the Leeward Islands could intensify on Saturday

Flying Into the Storm

Photo taken by Global Hawk as it flies into gathering clouds over the Atlantic Ocean. (NASA Global Hawk)




This is the second year of NOAA’s Sensing Hazards with Operational Unmanned Technology or SHOUT, a three-year research project with NASA to evaluate the benefits of using the unmanned aircraft in routine operations to improve severe storm forecasts. The research also looks at whether unmanned aircraft can fill data gaps if there are problems with weather satellites.

Get the latest on Tropical Storm Gaston by visiting the National Hurricane Center website at

For more information, please contact Monica Allen, director of public affairs for NOAA Research, at 301-734-1123 or by email at

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