Chasing Severe Weather With Drones Takes Off

May 14, 2019, 3:59 p.m. ·

An oncoming storm approaches. (Photo courtesy Adam Houston, UNL)

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The largest drone-based study of severe weather begins Friday in Salina, Kansas. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln-led project, known as TORUS, aims to help researchers learn more about supercells.

Targeted Observation by Radars and Unmanned Aircraft Systems of Supercells (TORUS) will cover 367,000 miles of the Great Plains and has been in the works for over a year. It will use a multitude of tools, including fixed-wing drones to aid its research.

Over 50 scientists and students from Nebraska, the University of Colorado-Boulder, the University of Oklahoma and Texas Tech University have partnered for the study.

The goal of the study is to learn more about structures within supercells. The group would like to learn more about the relationship between structures in hopes of improving forecasting for severe weather. On Friday, the group will embark on a four-to-six-week process of traveling the Great Plains in search for storms.

Dr. Adam Houston, a UNL researcher, said the group will need to be mindful of its safety while storm chasing.

“I’m actually more concerned about things that are not related to the storm," Houston said. "Mainly, other storm chasers. People who are distracted because of the storm, but they present a more direct hazard than the storm itself. I have good confidence in the people on this project that they will operate in a responsible and safe manner, but we’re not the only ones on the road.”

The scientists and students will spend the rest of the time ironing out issues with equipment before they begin their research.