Hurricane Fiona: Terrifying Drone Video From Middle of Storm Shows Giant 50-Foot Waves

by Caitlin Berard

Researchers using a robotic sailboat to venture inside the terrifying eyewall of a Category 4 hurricane sounds like the plot of the newest disaster film. But believe it or not, it’s not only real, it’s happening right now. On Thursday, researchers sent a Saildrone into the heart of Hurricane Fiona, and the footage it captured was absolutely unreal.

The video alone is enough to make you seasick sitting on the couch. In the drone footage, the little sailboat is tossed back and forth by 100 mph winds, climbing 50-foot waves before diving back down into a crevice and rocketing upward again. Though the drone only travels at about 9 mph, it reaches 40 mph while descending the monster waves.

The most unbelievable part of all, however, was that the scientists controlling the drone were thousands of miles out of harm’s way. The Saildrone traveled around 300 miles off the coast of Bermuda to capture the footage and data from Hurricane Fiona, enduring the very worst mother nature has to offer. Meanwhile, its operators were safely back at Saildrone Mission Control in Alameda, California.

“Saildrone is once again demonstrating its ability to provide critical ocean data in the most extreme weather conditions,” Saildrone CEO Richard Jenkins said in a statement.

“Hurricane Fiona intensified from a tropical storm to a Category 1 hurricane just before hitting Puerto Rico, causing significant damage and loss of life. The data Saildrone vehicles are gathering will help the science community better understand rapid intensification, giving people living in our coastal communities more time to prepare.”

Hurricane Fiona Marks the Newest Storm Explored by Saildrones

The footage of Hurricane Fiona is undeniably a terrifying sight to behold. Fiona, however, isn’t the most powerful storm explored by Saildrone’s robotic ships.

Last year, scientists sent a Saildrone inside the eyewall of Hurricane Sam as the storm stirred the sea into 50-foot crests, 140 mph winds lashing the drone from every direction. Those easily nauseated should think twice before watching the footage.

By sending drones on these horrifying missions, researchers hope to learn more about one of nature’s most devastating forces.

Scientists use the data collected by the Saildrones to better understand storm intensity and ocean surges. In doing so, those in an intense storm’s path will have a better idea of what’s coming and more time to protect themselves and their homes.

Captain Philip Hall, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, gave a little more insight into the benefits of Saildrones.

“Uncrewed systems in the air, on the ocean surface, and underwater have the potential to transform how NOAA meets its mission to better understand the environment,” he explained in a statement. “These exciting emerging technologies provide NOAA with another valuable tool that can collect data in places we can’t get to with other observing systems.”