Tropical Storm Isaac is a strange storm. As it steams toward New Orleans today--it’s projected to make landfall tomorrow, seven years to the day after Katrina came ashore--it still lacks the kind of coherent organization typical of similar tropical storms. At least, that’s what a couple of leading researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are telling PopSci today. But in its strangeness Isaac isn’t really a strange case at all. It’s tough to tell what these kinds of weather systems are going to do next, and that’s a major problem for forecasters attempting to advise those in the storm’s (projected) path. That’s why NOAA is sending in the robots.
Meteorologists tasked with forecasting the path and intensity of a given storm can only work with the data that they have, and right now there is a huge gap in that data. Authorities like NOAA gather storm data from a few different sources--from aircraft circling the weather system from tens of thousands of feet, from stationary weather buoys scattered throughout the Gulf of Mexico, from Earth-orbiting satellites--giving scientists a great view of the area around the storm. But there is virtually no data streaming to shore from inside the storm itself. The space between a growing hurricane and the ocean surface is no place to hang around. It's also where the most important data is.