Texas Tech University

Faculty Member Using Drones to Improve Storm Prediction

Glenys Young

September 1, 2015

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.