Drone In Flight

Can These Machines Keep Storm Researchers Safer?

in Firehose/Headline Feed/Latest/Rotator/Weather or Not by

In past articles I have discussed the uses for drones and now some scientists have revealed that they have yet another use for the remote-controlled vehicles. This research comes from scientists at the University of Colorado (CU) at Bounder where drones could end up saving the threat of the injury or even possibly the death of “storm chasers” who study severe storms and tornadoes.

Super Cell Thunderstorm
Supercell Thunderstorm 6.8.18 | Photo Courtesy of Daniel Liebert UC Boulder

According to an article written by Cassa Niedringhaus and published by Daily Camera News on dailycamera.com here is what happened “As a supercell thunderstorm loomed, Eric Frew drove one of the vehicles in a three-vehicle convoy straight toward it. When Frew, a University of Colorado professor, references ‘good weather,’ he’s talking about the roiling clouds that spit hail and spawn tornadoes, not sunny skies. An unmanned aircraft, or drone, flew above the convoy and dark skies to collect data from the storm.”

Professor Eric Frew
Eric Frew  Associate Director of IRIS| Photo by UC Boulder

Professor Frew is the associate director of the university’s “Integrated and Remote and Insitu Sensing” (IRIS) program. He and 16 other employees of the university spent the first two weeks of June in the mid-west searching for active storms to study with their drones. They teamed up with meteorologists from both Texas Tech University and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Hobby Drone With Camera | Photo by patch.com

Drones have gotten some bad press because of  improper use by hobbyists and business people who don’t follow the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules regarding their use. This project seems to be a genuine attempt to obey those guidelines and fly the drones into thunderstorms and closer to tornadoes to keep the researchers at a safe distance and at the same time gather the scientific information necessary to help us better understand how twisters form, what they are doing, and maybe even a way to stop them.

For a little background on drones here’s an excerpt from this column in an article I wrote titled: “Is History Repeating Itself”?: “As with many inventions hobbyists got into the act making their own unmanned vehicles. It wasn’t a very big step to go from radio controlled (RC) aircraft to a drone with a camera on it. Companies are producing thousands of them and the public is gobbling them up. Most of them use horizontal blades which enable hovering and takeoff and landing in a small space. Problems started to arise pretty quickly though. Inexperienced drone “pilots” were accused of spying on their neighbors, trespassing on private property, interfering with commercial aircraft, and even flying in the no-fly zone surrounding the White House in Washington, D.C.”

Drone On Roof
Drone On Roof | Photo by UC Boulder through Dronetech

Now back to the CU research project. Three drones were used by the researchers. As with past researchers and even the movies, they had to come up with a name for their drones. I don’t know who came up with the name for them or how long it took to make the decision, but they called them ‘Twistors,’ obviously a play on the word twister. They had a camera in the tail and sensors in the nose of each drone. The vehicles are launched from the specially adapted roof of Ford Explorers. The 10-year project had finally come to the time for sending drones into thunderstorms.

Drone In Flight
Twistor Drone Flying Toward Clouds | Photo by UC Boulder through Autonomous Systems IRT

They drove throughout Southern Oklahoma to North Dakota for two weeks finally finding a suitable storm on June 8, 2018 in South Dakota. According to the Daily Camera News article: “Footage from the drone’s tail camera shows the massive, dark clouds; a glowing blue patch where hail formed; and flashes of lightning. When the scout car encountered, the trio turned around. The sophisticated drone is heavy-duty enough to withstand wind and some rain, but it can’t fly through sustained hail. The CU team will now compile the date the drone collected and share it with the meteorologists for further study.”

I’ll keep a look-out for any summary the group publishes when they have completed reviewing the drone-collected data and let you know what they found out.

Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can comment below or email me at: tim.chuey@eugenedailynews.com.