Video: NOAA testing unmanned aircraft to measure lower atmosphere

Technology has potential to improve short-term weather forecasts

NOAA researchers test unmanned aircraft in lower atmosphere
Meteorologists are always looking for better ways to measure the atmosphere. In the Spring of 2017, researchers from NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory joined with several partners to test the value of airborne, mobile observing systems to observe weather in a new way. (NOAA NSSL)

A few hours before storms formed in northern Oklahoma during the second week in May, three unmanned aircraft flew through the air hundreds of feet above the ground to observe important changes in the atmosphere that could spawn severe thunderstorms.

This groundbreaking research known as EPIC is the first step toward proving the value of pilotless aircraft to provide important atmospheric clues that can significantly enhance data gathered by satellites, radars, manned aircraft and ground-observing stations.

During rapidly evolving severe weather, miniaturized, high-precision, and fast-response atmospheric sensors onboard the unmanned aircraft systems provided scientists detailed profiles of temperature, moisture and wind – information that has the potential to improve the accuracy of short-term forecasts three to six hours before severe weather appears.

About this research project
EPIC or Environmental Profiling and Initiation of Convection, is a research project funded by NOAA’s Unmanned Aircraft System Program being conducted by a team of scientists from NOAA's National Severe Storms Laboratory, University of Oklahoma, University of Colorado and Swiss-based company Meteomatics.