Garrett’s Blog: Tornado Drones

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OSU UAV. Photo: Jamey Jacob /Oklahoma State University

Every spring hundreds of scientists, students, & weather enthusiasts flood to Oklahoma to document and photograph tornadoes. Despite many advancements in the study of deep moist convection and tornadogenesis; researchers still do not fully understand why some storms produce tornadoes and others do not.

In an effort to understand the atmospheric dynamics around a tornado, many scientists have attempted to place devices (or vehicles) in the tornadoes path with limited success. Unfortunately, the 2013 tornado season claimed the life of 3 well-respected tornado researchers who were attempting to gather measurements from the tornado’s path. Tim Samaras, Carl Young, & Paul Samaras where killed when a rapidly developing EF5 tornado engulfed their location. They were part of a research company called TWISTEX or  (Tactical Weather Instrumented Sampling in/near Tornadoes EXperiment) deploying devices in the path of a tornado. It’s an inherently risky task, even for professionals who are qualifed and well-educated in severe local storms.

A safer solution may be in the works from Oklahoma State University. Aerospace engineering researchers at OSU are developing drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, which will be deployed in the atmosphere around a supercell thunderstorm gathering measurements such as air pressure, temperature, humidity, & wind velocity. The shell of the drone is made of military grade Kevlar. The researchers are working with the FAA for clearance into the airspace and if the proper policies are implemented it could be operational within 5 years.

– Garrett

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