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Lesson Plans

How drones could help predict tornadoes

February 8, 2016

Full Lesson

Essential question

Why is weather prediction important?

A multi-million dollar science grant will help researchers look at new ways to predict severe weather in Oklahoma where 100 tornadoes struck in just the past year.

Four universities located in “Tornado Alley” — an area hit hard by violent twisters — won a $6 million National Science Foundation grant to study severe weather, including developing small weather-sensing drones. Researchers hope this will lead to more reliable information about where and when severe weather might strike.

Twenty-four year old Alyssa Avery is a graduate student at Oklahoma State. Avery has designed a drone that she hopes will be strong enough to fly close to developing supercells, the mega storms that often turn in to tornadoes.

The closer forecasters can get to the sweet spot of the storm, a zone roughly 1,000 feet off the ground, the better the information about the storm’s severity will be—something traditional radar technology isn’t quite able to do, according to Oklahoma State lead researcher Jamey Jacob.

Key terms

drone — an unmanned aircraft or ship guided by remote control or onboard computers

supercell — a system producing severe thunderstorms and featuring rotating winds sustained by a prolonged updraft that may result in hail or tornadoes

Warm up questions (before watching the video)
  1. What is meteorology?
  2. Where do tornadoes occur?
  3. How do meteorologists help people prepare for severe weather?
Critical thinking questions (after watching the video)
  1. Why is better technology needed for predicting tornadoes?
  2. How much of a difference would an hour of warning make for people living in areas affected by tornadoes, compared to the 10 to 15 minutes currently possible?
  3. What other ways can you think of for drones to help scientists or other people get information that wasn’t possible before?