UNL project will send drones into tornadoes to better understand their causes

October 24, 2018 GMT

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is leading an ambitious new study to use drones to track tornadoes in the Great Plains.

More than 50 scientists and students from four universities will participate in the study, dubbed TORUS for Targeted Observation by Radars and UAS of Supercells. A UAS is an unmanned aircraft system, or drone.

The goal is to get drones close enough to the heart of a tornadic storm so scientists can have a clearer idea of what triggers one storm to form a tornado while a similar, second one doesn’t, said Adam Houston, associate professor of earth and atmospheric sciences. Houston is one of the lead researchers in the project.


The Great Plains is a good laboratory for storm research because its wide open spaces provide good visibility, and the region has a good network of roads. And, despite research indicating a shift in tornadoes to the east, it remains a region of high tornado frequency.

The three-year project is funded through a $2.4 million National Science Foundation grant and other dollars. The University of Colorado-Boulder, Texas Tech University and the University of Oklahoma, along with the National Severe Storms Laboratory, also are participating.

The research teams will chase storms across the 367,000 square miles of the Great Plains from North Dakota to Texas. Field work begins May 13.