In the past, drones were used primarily for military and surveillance purposes, but there have been several technological innovations in their design and deployment over the years. Today, drones are used in several different areas. They are used in gathering information for research purposes, traffic management, aerial photography, agriculture, movie production, news coverage and so many others. They are now also being used in the planning and forecasting of weather. This article examines various ways that weather drones can be deployed and how it could help forestall the loss of lives and properties through early detection mechanisms.
Climate change and the resultant disruptions to weather conditions globally is a major challenge and there is no better time for weather drones, which will be used for the purpose of research, analysis and evaluation of these changes.
Drones are already being used in various research works which help predict weather conditions accurately. Veerabhadran Ramanathan, a researcher with the Scripps Institute of Oceanography had previously conducted researches using larger aircraft but found that it was a very expensive venture. He later realized that it would be less expensive and easier to use drones for the same purpose at a much more reduced cost. In the course of his work, he flew three unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) over the Indian Ocean from where he and his team gathered data which showed that black carbon was the second largest cause of global warming.
They are also being used to collect information which will help in making predictions and recording weather patterns. There is really no gainsaying that drones will play a very important role in weather research in general. Charles Mondello, a drone expert said and I quote “the drone clearly has a value add.”
Lots of government emergencies and weather management agencies over the past few years have been engaging in drones. Only recently, a group of researchers in Hunstville, Alabama are said to be planning to deploy drones to assist them get high resolution and high frequency data of temperature to enable them assess the factors in which storms produce tornadoes. Also, it is important to note that since drones operate between the earth’s surface and satellites, scientists are excited at the prospects of using them to obtain relevant information about storms and weather patterns.
Drones are useful and would play an integral part in weather research. The President of the Centre for Severe Weather Research, Joshua Wurman sees drones as the next big thing, one that could provide very valuable data for weather research.
In 2015, Oklahoma State University and several other universities entered a research partnership with a $6 million grant from National Science Foundation to enable them design and build a drone which will help enhance weather forecasting. How is this expected to work? Drones would be deployed into the areas that have been difficult to reach and very remote locations and data they gather will be integrated into weather prediction models. The data collected will be used in planning for the future. The drones will be expected to send out information which helps measure wind, thermodynamic and atmospheric chemistry parameters.
Researchers in Colorado and Nebraska have successfully deployed drones into about 10 storms which included 6 super storms and a lot of data were gathered on temperature and moisture data.
There is another area in which drones are to be deployed in the United States and this is known as weather modification or manipulation. Tests are being developed by a team of meteorologists in Nevada to use drones to scatter particulates of silver iodide into the cloud system to trigger the release of rain or snow. This would be of great benefit to curb drought issues which farmers have experienced in recent times. Meteorologist Jeff Tilly has also developed something similar called a cloud seeding rain generator which is to be attached to the drones during the research. These inventions are revolutionary.
Finally, I will examine some critical factors to consider when designing and deploying drones for weather research and management purposes.
Some of these include:
1. They will need to be durable to stay strong in the face of harsh weather.
2. Fixing a black box on these drones could provide data in the event of a crash or accident.
3. There should be regular maintenance of the drone.
4. There is need to properly classify drones in order to manage and regulate the ones to be used for weather research.
5. Insurance issues need to be considered.
6. Drones and their operators need to be licensed. Drones which fall into certain categories should be licensed.
7. Consideration should be given for an inbuilt collision avoidance system to prevent collision in the airspace.
8. With developments in drone deployments in several cities for weather research purposes, there is need for a crowded skies navigation system which will help them avoid other weather drones on similar missions.
9. Weather drones should be programmed with a superior operating system software that will enable them perform their tasks easily.
10. As the need for instrumentation and safety equipment grows, weather drones will remain expensive and financing for such expeditions will ultimately be a new source of business.
11. There is a need for new innovations in the manufacturing of batteries that have long shelf lives. This will help keep the drones running for long periods of time.