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NOAA Testing Unmanned Aircraft to Improve Short-Term Forecasts

25 May 2017, 2:08 pm

Meteorologists are always looking for better ways to measure the atmosphere. In the Spring of 2017, researchers from NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) joined with several partners to test the value of airborne, mobile observing systems to observe weather in a new way.  This groundbreaking research known as EPIC, the Environmental Profiling and Initiation of Convection Field Project.

A few hours before storms formed in northern Oklahoma during the second week in May, three unmanned aircraft flew through the air hundreds of feet above the ground near the Department of Energy’s Southern Great Plains site in Lamont, Oklahoma. Observations were taken to detect important changes in the atmosphere that could spawn severe thunderstorms.

Along with conducting short-duration experiments at the Lamont site, a second site was chosen in “real-time” from the Oklahoma Mesonet, in coordination with the National Weather Service Norman Forecast Office.

This groundbreaking research is the first step toward proving the value of pilotless aircraft to provide important atmospheric clues that can significantly enhance data gathered by satellites, radars, manned aircraft and ground-observing stations.

The overall goal of the project is to evaluate the value of airborne, mobile observing systems to observe the lower atmosphere, especially during rapidly evolving severe weather conditions. The instruments will provide detailed profiles of temperature, moisture and winds to determine the potential for severe weather development. Project scientists will test miniaturized, high-precision, and fast-response atmospheric sensors adapted for use on the UAS. These are expected to have high accuracy in the strong winds they expect to encounter in north central Oklahoma.

During rapidly evolving severe weather, miniaturized, high-precision, and fast-response atmospheric sensors onboard the unmanned aircraft systems provided scientists detailed profiles of temperature, moisture and wind – information that has the potential to improve the accuracy of short-term forecasts three to six hours before severe weather appears.

Images and information from NOAA and NSSL

For WeatherNation: Meteorologist Mace Michaels

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