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Drones becoming important tool for weather researchers and forecasters

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK (KTVI) - The National Tornado Summit is an annual, national forum that brings together insurance professionals, regulators, weather experts and emergency management officials.

Together they go over the latest research and technology to improve disaster response and preparedness.  One of the hot topics this year … the use of drones!

There is no doubt that drones can take some amazing pictures.  But more and more they are being used by professionals, insurance agencies and researchers to do things that in the past were simply not possible.

“The drone clearly has a value ad” says Charles Mondello of the Property Drone Consortium.  He is a drone expert and says the move to drones will only pick up steam.

“It’s a valuable tool for insurance…for disaster recovery…for urban search and rescue.”

He also says they will be useful in weather research.

Monday, I was in Huntsville, Alabama for the launch of Vortex Southeast.  I visited with a group of researchers who will be using an “octocopter” (8 rotors) drone to get detailed analysis of the planetary boundary layer.  That is weather-speak for the lowest levels of the atmosphere just above the ground.  They plan to deploy their drone to around 400 feet in the pre-storm environment to get detailed, high-resolution, high frequency observations of temperature and humidity to better assess what could be key factors in which storms produce tornadoes and which ones do not.

“We really are interested in the character of the environment that happens prior to the development of severe weather and tornadoes,” says Temple Lee, the NOAA researcher working with the octocopter.

The Emergency Management Agency in Adams County, IL (home to Quincy, IL) has been using a drone for the better part of two years, with great success.

Our local National Weather Service office in St. Louis would love to get their hands on a similar drone, according to Science and Operations Officer Jim Seiveking.  “I think it would be extremely useful to have a drone when we go out on storm damage surveys.  We could easily see if a tornado or straight line winds.”

But there is privacy, legal and regulatory concerns that, for the time being, have those plans grounded.