TTU researcher using drones to study tornadoes

Published: Dec. 2, 2016 at 3:12 AM CST|Updated: Dec. 2, 2016 at 3:34 AM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn
Dr. Christopher Weiss in front of the KA band radar's from Texas Tech (source: KCBD video)
Dr. Christopher Weiss in front of the KA band radar's from Texas Tech (source: KCBD video)

LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - An associate professor at Texas Tech is part of a research team using drones to develop better predictions of when tornadoes might form.

The group is made up of researchers from Texas Tech, the University of Colorado and the University of Nebraska.

Part of the research project is to use drones to study thunderstorms throughout states in Tornado Alley.

Dr. Christopher Weiss at Texas Tech, has a passion for learning more about what causes severe weather, and this research team is the first of its kind.

"We're taking an unmanned aircraft, and we're trying to make it intelligent in how to better sample severe thunderstorms to better predict specific phenomena, like tornadoes," Weiss said.

The team is combining drones from the University of Colorado and KA band radars from Texas Tech.

"We realized that there is kind of a gap in the understanding of how severe thunderstorms operate and part of it is due to not understanding what storms look like above the ground," Weiss said.

Weiss says that's one of the benefits of using the drones, as the aircraft can get much closer to severe storms than researchers are usually able to go - a little over 1,000 feet into the air.

"We use unmanned aircraft, unmanned platforms because the regions of the storm that we need to sample are hostile. They're susceptible to damage from hail and lighting. And of course the tornado threat," Weiss said.

Right now the team has been working on storm simulations, but these plans will be taken out into the field starting next year.

"The aircraft has a full load of meteorological instrumentation. We can measure temperature, relative humidity, air pressure, wind speed and direction," he said.

But what truly drives Dr. Weiss and the rest of the team isn't just the love of research.

"The motivation for this work, as we often say in this line of research, is we're trying to save lives, and we're trying to minimize the damage to property. Part of that is lead time, giving folks more time to prepare for events like tornadoes," Weiss said.

And for Dr. Weiss, being on this research team is like a childhood dream come true.

"It's kind of like being a little kid again, playing with toy airplanes. They're just a little bit bigger and a lot more expensive. But you know it's good to be able to apply this technology to learn something more about these weather phenomena," he said.

Dr. Weiss says this is a three-year long project. Year two starts in January. The final year of the project will be 2018.

Copyright 2016 KCBD. All rights reserved.