Published: May 24, 2017

IRISS Drone Provides Live-Feed Weather Data for Severe Weather Forecasting to the National Weather Service

On Tuesday 16 May 2017, an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) from the CU Boulder Integrated Remote & In Situ Sensing Figure 1Program (IRISS) provided the first live-streamed data from a drone to the NOAA National Weather Service (NWS) in Norman, Oklahoma. The IRISS team was part of the Environmental Profiling of the Initiation of Convection (EPIC) project sponsored by the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory. Located to the right, and provided by NWS Science and Operations Officer Todd Lindley, is a screenshot of the live data display.  Lindley said: “it was fascinating to see the data streaming in from the TTwistor Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) in real time.”  

The primary objective of Project EPIC is to develop, deploy, and evaluate UAS technologies that will provide NSSL and NWS with a mobile observing system for monitoring rapidly evolving high-impact severe weather conditions not observed with current operational systems. 

In addition to being the target for some of the most violent weather on the planet, Oklahoma is covered by the Oklahoma Mesonet, 121 automated weather stations each with a set of instruments located on or adjacent to a 30-foot tower that report measurements every 5 minutes.  Although the Mesonet is a rich source of data for researchers and NWS, there is a need to capture atmospheric profiles to significantly greater altitudes and finer horizontal spatial resolution. 

Project EPIC is a collaboration of NSSL, CU IRISS, University of Oklahoma (OU), and Meteomatics (a Swiss company specializing in atmospheric measurements) to explore how UAS might be used to address these measurement needs.  The strategy is for OU and and Meteomatics is to deploy small multirotor “multicopter” UAS simultaneously at two Mesonet sites, flying up to 2,500 ft and down over a span of about 20 min, while the IRISS TTwistor team flies transects between the two Mesonet sites over roundtrip distances of 70-120 mi.

The EPIC research proposal was led by NSSL in response to recommendations from National Research Council and instrumentation workshop reports to develop and evaluate observing systems capable of providing detailed profiles of temperature, moisture, and winds within the atmospheric boundary layer (ABL) to help determine the potential for severe weather development.  Based on several years of collaborating with NSSL, the IRISS team was invited to participate in EPIC to demonstrate the capabilities of the Tempest and TTwistor UAS to address the data collection needs. 

The TTwistor UAS was developed by CU Boulder researchers in the Research & Engineering Center for Unmanned Vehicles (RECUV) with a Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT) Advanced Industries Accelerator grant.  This grant was awarded to RECUV in collaboration with the NOAA UAS Program Office, Boulder-based Black Swift Technologies, and Longmont-based drone manufacturer UASUSA.  

The IRISS team returned home from the EPIC deployment on the 19th of May, but will return to the field again 30 May – 12 June for the Rivers of Vorticity in Supercells (RiVorS) project, also sponsored by the National Severe Storms Laboratory.  For RiVorS, the IRISS UAS team will again partner with the UNL team for supercell deployments similar to those conducted in VORTEX-2.  The primary objective of RiVorS is to test the hypothesis that “rivers of vorticity” streaming into a supercell are the source for rotation in tornadoes.  The IRISS-UNL team will also use RiVorS to update our concept of operations for intercepting and measuring conditions in previously unsampled regions of supercells.

Local NPR coverage of the EPIC depoloyment in Oklahoma.