For the Tennessee Valley, the word tornado can spark fear, especially after the devastating effects of the Tornado Outbreak of 2011. As we look towards the future of 2031, one research group from the atmospheric science department at University of Alabama-Huntsville is hoping to give local meteorologists more access to upper air data by simply using an unmanned aerial vehicle.
Right now, meteorologists at National Weather Service offices and universities across the country launch weather balloons, usually twice per day, to collect weather data such as pressure and temperature at certain levels of the atmosphere.
One of the biggest problems of using weather balloons is cost and retrieval. Less than 20 percent of weather balloons launched by the National Weather Service are found and returned.
”When you let the balloon go, it’s pretty much going to drift with the wind flow,” said John Walker of Cherokee Technologies.
But by using an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle also known as UAV, “you can target it to a certain location on when you need to and where you want to,” said Walker.
By having control of launch location and retrieval of the UAV, possible hourly launches could occur to obtain more up to date upper level weather data.
”One of the things we look at is that the tornado lives in the boundary layer in the lowest levels. So we get an idea of temperature, humidity, especially wind shear so it might give us a better idea of weather or not conditions can become favorable for a tornado to form,” said Ryan Wade, a PhD. candidate at the University of Alabama-Huntsville.
Another perk of using UAV’s in the future when it comes to collecting weather data, “As a lot of the technology get smaller, we can put radar and lidar on smaller and smaller UAVs. So one of the amazing thing we could potentially do in the future, is start flying these near thunderstorms and actually scan thunderstorms with radar with lidars so we get a better idea of internal structure and whether or not a tornado has formed,” said Wade.
This research project of using UAV’s for the future of weather forecasting is still in the beginning stages at UAH. One of the biggests set backs are FAA restrictions. Currently, FAA regulations limit UAH to only flying their UAV’s in enclosed spaces.