Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Weather researchers say drones could be valuable tools before, during and after storms

With winter approaching, and some weather experts predicting another brutal winter, weather researchers say drones could be the answer to providing better and more timely information on storms such as those associated with the Great Lakes shoreline, Cary Giles reports for the Great Lakes Echo, a service of the Center for Environmental Journalism at Michigan State University. (NOAA photo: NASA’s unmanned Global Hawk is used in hurricane research, but can only be flown over water)

"These lake effect snows happen when 'cold air masses move over warm lake waters,' according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration," Giles writes. "They are common in the Great Lakes region from November to February."

"Derrick Herndon, a research specialist at a satellite center at the University of Wisconsin, said unmanned aircraft would be useful to research and predict this type of weather," Giles writes. "Lake effect snows happen in only a few hours, and they need to be reported with accuracy, Herndon said. Drones can get a full picture of the temperature and moisture of the region to help determine if they are likely."

Jeff Masters, the director of meteorology at the Weather Underground, a service that predicts weather for major cities worldwide, said drones also could be used to assess storm damage. Masters told Giles, “Another ideal use would be in damage surveys immediately following a major tornado or hurricane. The drone could photograph the damage, advise first responders on how to avoid blocked roads and pinpoint areas most in need of search and rescue efforts.”

The Federal Aviation Administration has not approved drones for such uses, Giles writes. But they should, weather researchers say. Herndon said satellites are useful because they measure cloud height, temperature, water vapor, winds in the atmosphere and sea surface temperature, but drones can get closer than a satellite. Herndon told Giles, “Laws often don’t keep up with the technology.” (Read more)

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