Project using unmanned aerial systems starts May 8

Meteorologists are always looking for better ways to measure the lower atmosphere. This spring, researchers from NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) will join with others to test the value of airborne, mobile observing systems for observing important changes in the local environment that can spawn severe thunderstorms in a new way. EPIC, the Environmental Profiling and Initiation of Convection Field Project, will deploy fixed-wing and rotary small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) May 8 through 20 at and near the Department of Energy’s Southern Great Plains (SGP) site in Lamont, Oklahoma.

During rapidly evolving severe weather conditions, the instruments will provide detailed profiles of temperature, moisture and winds to determine the potential for severe weather development. Such information has the potential to improve the accuracy of short-term weather forecasts three to six hours before weather impacts a community.

During the project, scientists will test miniaturized, high-precision, and fast-response atmospheric sensors adapted for use on the UAS. These are expected to have high accuracy in the strong winds they expect to encounter in north central Oklahoma.

The data provided by the instruments we’re testing is different from anything available, including satellites, radars, manned aircraft, and ground observing stations. We don’t yet know the value of UASs to monitor the atmosphere.

Colorado University’s TTwistor will be used in EPIC. (Photo provided)


At the SGP site, researchers will conduct short-duration experiments and a second site will be chosen in “real-time” from the Oklahoma Mesonet. Timing and location of activities will be coordinated with the National Weather Service Norman Forecast Office, which will be receiving data from the instruments in real time for evaluation.

EPIC is a collaborative effort funded by NOAA’s UAS Program Office.  NSSL’s partners in EPIC consist of the University of Colorado, The University of Oklahoma, and Meteomatics.