The application of UAS towards tornado research and forecasting

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Adam L Houston1, Brian M. Argrow2, Eric Frew2 and Christopher Weiss3, (1)University of Nebraska Lincoln, Lincoln, NE, United States, (2)University of Colorado at Boulder, Boulder, CO, United States, (3)Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX, United States
UAS hold significant potential to advance the understanding of tornadoes and improve tornado warning skill. While the current regulatory environment places limits on the application of UAS towards these ends, demonstrated success targeting tornadic and non-tornadic supercells proves the general feasibility of this work. In this presentation we will summarize the successes using UAS to collect data in the vicinity of supercell thunderstorms and discuss ways that these data, along with additional data collected in future field campaigns, can be used answer basic research questions concerning tornado formation and applied research questions concerning the value of UAS in the tornado warning decision process.

The associative relationship between the rear-flank downdraft (RFD) and tornadogenesis has long been recognized. Yet, despite decades of research focused on tornadoes, the causal relationship between the RFD and tornadogenesis remains unresolved. In the presentation, we will describe ways that UAS could be used to test hypotheses posed to explain this causal relationship.

We will also present a strategy to quantify the impact of UAS on tornado warning skill. Through controlled forecast experiments conducted using data collected through small field campaigns that leverage prior success targeting supercell thunderstorms with UAS, the value of targeted surveillance of potentially tornadic storms using UAS can be assessed. Significant changes to the existing regulatory environment are likely required for UAS, operated in a targeted surveillance mode, to contribute to improving tornado warning skill, but progress can be made today towards quantifying the impact that UAS could make.