Largest Drone-Based Study of Storms led by Nebraska Researchers

October 10, 2018 - 12:56pm

Upcoming storm seasons will be the focus for researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who are taking the lead on the largest-ever, drone-based storm study. University of Colorado Boulder, Texas Tech University, University of Oklahoma and the National Severe Storms Laboratory are also participating.

The Targeted Observation by Radars and Unmanned Aircraft Systems of Supercells (TORUS) study will take place across more than 367,000 square miles, covering a majority of the Great Plains.

The research team will use fixed-wing drones to collect data from select parts of storms in order to see how tornadoes and other severe weather form.

UNL Associate Professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Adam Houston, is one of the lead researchers for the project. Houston says the research will give them a better understanding of storms.

“With that improved understanding, we can say something about what’s actually causing tornadoes to form, what’s causing some supercells to be strong and others to not be as strong,” Houston said. “That would be a significant advancement in our understanding of supercells, and perhaps lead to a conceptual model of supercells that is improved.”

Flying into severe storms is an issue on its own, but Houston is equally concerned about the safety of the researchers on the ground.

“We have to remain very near the aircraft at all times. The problem is that we’re putting people into the path of the storms,” Houston said. “My priority as one of the mission commanders is to keep my people safe.”

The National Science Foundation has awarded a three-year, $2.4 million grant for the project, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is providing additional financial support. Preparations for the research began in September, and fieldwork will start next May.

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