CU, Nebraska researchers will gather data about tornadoes with unmanned planes

Researchers say they have collected promising weather data by flying instrument-laden drones into big Western and Midwestern storms. Now, they want to expand the project in hopes of learning more about how tornadoes form.

Drones can penetrate parts of weather systems that other instruments can’t reach, and they can do it at less cost and with less danger than piloted planes, the scientists say. The University of Colorado and University of Nebraska announced this week that they have formed the Unmanned Aircraft System and Severe Storms Research Group to develop the program.

Why use drones?
A team of researchers from CU and NOAA sample surface bound -aries on the Pawnee National Grasslands near Grover as a storm develops over Wyoming in 2013.

Scientists have no other way to get instruments deep inside a storm. Drones can take measurements at any altitude up to about 2,500 feet — higher than measurements by ground stations and storm-chasing vehicles, said Adam Houston of the University of Nebraska, co-director of the research group. They also can measure wind below 300 feet, lower than radar can reach. Drones can cover more territory than a ground-based storm chaser, and they don’t need an airport to take off or land. A drone can fly into the strong winds, downdrafts, rain and hail of a powerful storm without putting a human pilot in danger. … (Read more)


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