McDermott: You called the Great Plains a “laboratory,” can you explain why this is such a great place to study severe storms and why you used this for your research?
Houston: We know that it’s a hotbed for severe weather, but that’s not an accident. It has geographically and meteorologically the confluence of several features that make for severe weather. Number one, we have the Gulf of Mexico, which is a long ways away from Nebraska sure, but that air travels long distances. It is a very warm body of water and the air that sits over the body of water acquires the moisture and warmth of that water.
The air gets drawn up into Nebraska. It has a lot of energy and it can fuel the thunderstorms. The other thing that happens, because of the Rockies and because the way they’re oriented north-to-south, they tend to support the rapid development of these large-scale systems, not the thunderstorms, but the parent systems that within which the thunderstorms develop.
The rapid development means that you get explosive development of thunderstorms provided that this energy is available.
McDermott: How about the drones that you’re using in this research, talk a little bit about that as well as some of the goals of the study.
Houston: For this particular project the type of unmanned aircraft they were using as a fixed-wing aircraft, in contrast to what most people are probably familiar with which is the multi-rotor — it has three, four, five or six rotors on it – it goes up and down and may be able to move laterally. The aircraft they were using are more like a regular aircraft, of course much smaller and without a person on board.
The reason we do that is because you can get much longer flight times with a fixed-wing aircraft than with a rotary-wing aircraft. It’s a challenge to get anything more than about 30 or 40 minutes of flight time with a rotary-wing aircraft. With a fixed-wing aircraft that we use we can get upwards of three, four, five or six hours. So, that gives us a lot of flexibility and in the kind of work that we do it’s almost a prerequisite. With the fixed-wing aircraft we can fly across features in the atmosphere that we’re trying to sample, we can fly into areas that are not accessible, because we have this long flight time we can launch in a safe location and move towards hazardous locations.
So in terms of the goals for this particular study, the aim is to move the bar forward or up towards a point where we’re using fixed-wing unmanned aircraft for targeted surveillance of severe storms – to go towards storms not just to understand them, but actually to improve predictability.
Welcome to drone day on the Adafruit blog. Every Monday we deliver the latest news, products and more from the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), quadcopter and drone communities. Drones can be used for video & photography (dronies), civil applications, policing, farming, firefighting, military and non-military security work, such as surveillance of pipelines. Previous posts can be found via the #drone tag and our drone / UAV categories.