UNL research could help forecast using drones

Published: Sep. 5, 2018 at 6:30 PM CDT
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The University of Nebraska is leading the team of scientists and students from four universities with a goal to understand more about what happens inside super cell thunderstorms, which often lead to tornadoes.

Researchers will fly four drones into the severe thunderstorms next May and June.

The drones are just one part of understanding what happens inside the super cell.

Scientists will also have a plane, trucks on the ground with forecasting equipment, radar and balloon sensors.

The project is called Torus.

"So what we want to do is use the environment that we can see, to infer the environment and the structures that we can't see in the storm," said UNL Professor Adam Houston.

Nebraska professor Adam Houston is one of the seven principal investigators.

"That's a limitation of our understanding it's a limitation of the data they have access to," said Houston.

A team of over 50 scientists and students will fly over the Great Plains, from Texas to North Dakota, and Iowa to Wyoming and Colorado.

Houston hopes in the future the research will help change people's attitudes toward tornado warnings.

"There are often cases where a warning is issued and no tornado actually occurs. And while that is great that no tornado occurs, it tends to desensitize people watching the warnings. Warnings issue and they think why would I take cover, why would I take action if tornadoes don't usually happen," said Houston.

It's being paid for by a $2.4 million grant but it could be years before we see how this research impacts our life.

"In the future, maybe it's decades in the future, using unmanned aircraft to target storms, collect data, send those data directly to the forecaster and the forecaster can then use those data to directly improve the forecast," said Houston.

1011's Chief Meteorologist Ken Siemek says that this ambitious project could shed some much-needed light into the mysterious inner-workings of a super cell thunderstorm, and that this multi-million dollar research project has the potential to change the game and save lives.