U.S. meteorologists are using UAVs to improve weather forecasting through the study of atmospheric physics. Matthew Stock reports.
For those living in America's infamous "tornado alley", minutes count. Currently, there's an average of just 14 minutes warning time before a twister hits. But drones, packed with meteorological equipment, are helping scientists better predict when and where tornadoes and storms will strike. Speaking at the Paris Air Show, Oklahoma's secretary of science and technology said it could be a game-changer for forecasting. SOUNDBITE (English) DR. KELVIN DROEGEMEIER, SECRETARY OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY, STATE OF OKLAHOMA, SAYING: "We observe very well at the ground, we observe pretty well at high altitude; satellites look down from above. But it's that first 2, 3 kilometres of the atmosphere above the ground level that are most important." In this elusive lower atmosphere, unmanned aerial vehicles can gather data on the exact conditions in the build-up to severe weather. SOUNDBITE (English) DR. KELVIN DROEGEMEIER, SECRETARY OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY, STATE OF OKLAHOMA, SAYING: "One of the things we want to do is take it out in the pre-thunderstorm environment, prior to storms forming, to capture the antecedent conditions before the storm forms. We think that will give us an opportunity to understand better how storms form and improve the forecasting of when and especially where thunderstorms form." A multi-state team of scientists in tornado hotspots, such as Oklahoma, is working on small, affordable drones as part of a four-year $6 million initiative. These could be deployed in swarms at multiple locations before a storm even exists. SOUNDBITE (English) DR. KELVIN DROEGEMEIER, SECRETARY OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY, STATE OF OKLAHOMA, SAYING: "So the more observations we can get, the better observations we can get; the more accurate will be the forecast.... With advanced numerical models and data from drones we think we might be able to get the warning lead time up to well over an hour." That extra time could be a life-saver. Tornadoes can be among the most violent weather events on earth, with the biggest packing wind speeds of more than 200 mile per hour.