Researcher Using Drones to Improve Storm Prediction

The three-year project focuses on factors that affect severe weather development.


With the help of a National Science Foundation grant, a Texas Tech University faculty member is using drones to help predict severe storms.

Chris Weiss, an associate professor in the Atmospheric Science Group, is teaming up with scientists from the University of Colorado and the University of Nebraska to study how temperature, humidity and other observations impact the development of storms. The project is being funded by a $346,246 grant from the National Science Foundation.

“The short-term goals will be a better understanding of the fundamental predictability of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes,” Weiss said. “The hope is that there will be consistent signals of observables that correlate well with the likelihood of tornado production.”


The first part of the project focuses on how the evolution of severe storms is sensitive to specific aspects of prior states. In other words, if the temperature, humidity or other factors change by a small amount at a specific time, how does the storm evolve later? By knowing this sensitivity, the team can work backward from the result to determine which observations at the earlier time have the most impact on the outcome.

“We then take it a step further,” Weiss said. “Knowing the importance of specific observations at the earlier time, we use rapid observation platforms, like unmanned aircraft and mobile radar, to specifically observe these locations and obtain the critical measurements needed to get the best prediction of the phenomenon at the later time.”


Initially, idealized computer models of severe storms will help the team develop a framework from which to operate. At the conclusion of the project in three years, they will bring two mobile high-frequency Doppler radars from Texas Tech, unmanned aircraft platforms from the University of Colorado and assets from the University of Nebraska to carry out a demonstration of real-time adaptive sampling of severe storms.

“Ultimately, if this project is successful, we will have taken a large step toward the improved prediction of severe thunderstorms and provided the framework for a system by which we will be able to operationally make routine measurements of the atmosphere that we are certain will have the most impact on future tornado development,” Weiss said.

The project is expected to start Jan. 1.

College of
Arts & Sciences

The Texas Tech University College of Arts & Sciences was founded in 1925 as one of the university’s four original colleges.

Comprised of 15 departments, the College offers a wide variety of courses and programs in the humanities, social and behavioral sciences, mathematics and natural sciences. Students can choose from 41 bachelor’s degree programs, 34 master’s degrees and 14 doctoral programs.

With just under 11,000 students enrolled, the College of Arts & Sciences is the largest college on the Texas Tech University campus.

In fall 2016, the college embarked upon its first capital campaign, Unmasking Innovation: The Campaign for Arts & Sciences. It focuses on five critical areas of need: attracting and retaining top faculty, enhancing infrastructure, recruiting high-potential students, undergraduate research and growing the Dean’s Fund for Excellence.


National Wind Institute


National Wind Institute (NWI) is world-renowned for conducting innovative research in the areas of wind energy, wind hazard mitigation, wind-induced damage, severe storms and wind-related economics.

NWI is also home to world-class researchers with expertise in numerous academic fields such as atmospheric science, civil, mechanical and electrical engineering, mathematics and economics, and NWI was the first in the nation to offer a doctorate in Wind Science and Engineering, and a Bachelor of Science in Wind Energy.


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