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Should drones be used to obtain pictures or video while chasing?

  • Yes

    Votes: 13 81.3%
  • No

    Votes: 3 18.8%

  • Total voters
    16
  • Poll closed .
I've thought about this subject a lot recently, as drones will soon be as common as point-and-shoot cameras, and there's much to be discussed about them. For example:

1) How ethical is it to use drones to obtain tornado footage then sell it and claim it as your own, even if the drone was not on your property while you recorded the video?

2) Obviously there are advantages in using drones to obtain video, but how reasonable is it to construct a drone that can accurately obtain useful data (i.e. pressure, humidity, or even velocity) near a tornado? Most drones cannot sustain flight in winds that would be present near the inflow region of a thunderstorm.

3) What roles could drones play in gathering accurate location info of a tornado (I believe someone started a kickstarter for this), since they could confirm ground circulation more accurately than a human could?

4) Will drones ever be a feasible replacement for radiosondes, which could make obtaining soundings much cheaper and therefore more frequent?

The list could go on all day. Eventually, drones could serve as a replacement to humans as a set of eyes in the field. However, as regulations on them increase, their recreational use, and therefore their use in chasing, may become restricted. I just think the discussion should be started, since their use and utility is exploding before our eyes.
 
If someone can obtain video or data by using drones, antelope or Bald Eagles I don't care. I just wish the best of luck because it isn't easy either way!
 
1) Airspace is public property unless you're flying in a restricted zone (in which case you have much bigger worries :) )
2) Question answered by your conclusion.
3) Question answered by the failure of the Kickstarter.
4) Drones can't quite make it up to 50,000 feet just quite yet. So no.
 
Maybe the question could've been worded better. It sounded to me like you were suggesting throwing a drone outside the car while still moving to get a different view. If it distracts you from driving or obeying laws of common decency, then I say "no, it ought not be done."

There are meteorological researchers who are attempting to use drones to measure features that would be harder to measure otherwise. One notable area of research for which the use of UASs (unmanned aerial systems, a more generic term into which "drone" fits) is PBL measurement. I occasionally see short pieces in BAMS or in the AMS email list that goes out weekly about a crew from various institutions (I think CU Boulder has come up, but I'm not 100% sure of that) designing a "probe"/drone to measure the atmosphere near tornadoes, but to my knowledge, there is no published research based on such measurements just yet. Indeed, commercially available drones can't really sustain the environment in and around a tornado.

While Rob is right in that you probably won't be able to use a drone to get a full tropospheric and lower stratospheric profile, you can certainly use one to measure the lower troposphere (probably below whatever height level is considered restricted airspace...18000 ft?). Having an idea of how the PBL is evolving on a chase day can be very valuable even if you don't see any data above it.

I do think it is generally immoral to use the misfortune of someone else (especially if they didn't cause it) for your own personal benefit, and thus you will probably never see me attempt to use a drone, for example, to see damage from a tornado over private property. But I suppose if it's not illegal, you can't really tell anyone they can't do it. Plus, I know NWS offices would probably do it to improve damage surveys, and I don't have a problem with that. And certainly there are opportunists out there who will do it. Frankly I don't see the point of collecting video when the focus of the shot is non-moving (i.e., landscape and damage). A still photo would suffice, although that's a topic for a different thread.
 
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1) Airspace is public property unless you're flying in a restricted zone (in which case you have much bigger worries :) )
2) Question answered by your conclusion.
3) Question answered by the failure of the Kickstarter.
4) Drones can't quite make it up to 50,000 feet just quite yet. So no.

Airspace is public property only above 500 feet, below that, claims of trespassing can be made. From the U.S. v. Causby Supreme Court case, "person's real property ownership includes a reasonable amount of the private airspace above the property in order to prevent nuisance. A landowner may make any legitimate use of their property that they want, even if it interferes with aircraft overflying the land". The way I interpret this is - you can fly above someone else's land at your own risk. So if you're flying a drone around on a chase, be wary that someone could basically shoot it down if they want to.

Just because the Kickstarter failed, doesn't mean this couldn't be implemented in the near future. For instance, if a hill is in the way, you could fly the drone or quadcopter up a couple hundred feet, and confirm whether or not a tornado is indeed on the ground, when otherwise you wouldn't be able to tell. The data they collect could also be used for future research of an event.

Maybe the question could've been worded better. It sounded to me like you were suggesting throwing a drone outside the car while still moving to get a different view. If it distracts you from driving or obeying laws of common decency, then I say "no, it ought not be done."

While Rob is right in that you probably won't be able to use a drone to get a full tropospheric and lower stratospheric profile, you can certainly use one to measure the lower troposphere (probably below whatever height level is considered restricted airspace...18000 ft?). Having an idea of how the PBL is evolving on a chase day can be very valuable even if you don't see any data above it.

No, I definitely was not suggesting that, and I'm not sure how that was implied. I mean when you stop on a chase to get photos or video or whatever, you fly a drone in the air to complement what you already have. This may include flying over a house or into the field next to you a reasonable distance away to get a better idea of what a storm is doing, or just to get better, more interesting shots. This could be especially valuable when chasing in hilly or heavily vegetated areas.

Getting an idea of the PBL on a chase day is very valuable during and after the chase, and I'm sure we will begin to see a lot of people doing that. For instance, you could basically plot your own skew-t diagram up to ~850-700 mb to get an idea of how low levels are behaving. This is valuable for many obvious reasons.
 
I think only the really high quality drones would be able to get up more than a few hundred feet for measuring the PBL, however. I doubt most, if any, chasers on a typical budget would be able to afford a model that can go anywhere near as high as 1 km AGL.

I figured you might've meant what you said. I was sort of playing Devil's advocate, too.
 
I think only the really high quality drones would be able to get up more than a few hundred feet for measuring the PBL, however. I doubt most, if any, chasers on a typical budget would be able to afford a model that can go anywhere near as high as 1 km AGL.
That's a good point and I didn't really think about how 850 mb is typically 1000+ meters in the sky, I was thinking more around 1 thousand feet. And as you mentioned, that is still out of the range of most affordable drones, but they are improving rapidly. It could still prove useful and is something I can hopefully experiment with next spring.
 
In addition to the evolving legal issues of drone use for weather surveillance, is the yet to be mentioned "turbulence" factor. Ultra-light drones are extremely sensitive to turbulence, which of course is normally associated with severe weather events. The drone photography folks are increasingly challenged by turbulence and equipment safety -- especially within the boundary (PBL) layer where terrain induced kinetic energy (TKE) magnifies turbulence caused by wind shear. In response to requests from the drone photography crowd, RAOB now has a TKE PBL turbulence option so drone operators can better prepare/plan around risky environments > http://raob.com/tke.php
 
Sorry I'm super late to this conversation. Right now I am actively working on the research side of things using UASs to measure near-tornado environments.

The biggest thing right now is the FAA. Currently our group has a pretty large COA (certificate of authentication, basically where we can fly). We can tell them an hour in advance we will be here and they let us. We still have ceiling and airport limits we have to avoid. I'm currently at Nebraska working closely with CU. Pretty much everything Jeff mentioned above is on the money.

As for outsourcing data, I do not see that happening ever. A lot of chasers try to emulate mobile mesonets on their chase vehicles, but I guarantee you that data never sees the light of day in an academic paper. There are stringent guidelines on the instrumentation used for data for research. However this is a topic of a different discussion.

As of right now I believe that the ceiling that anybody can fly "drones" is at 500 feet. Unless a specific COA is obtained with through the FAA, you are unable to fly above that. OU is currently doing boundary layer measurements with a quadcopter as well. Thermodynamic data in the PBL is critical for determination of initiation and storm environment. A common procedure is to mesh the observed PBL data with a RAOB in the vicinity and not necessarily at the same time because the changes in the upper-air are not at transient as the conditions at the surface
 
I think it is awesome seeing a true-UAS being used for this sort of stuff as long as safety measures have been considered. Someone not exactly knowing what they are doing are just creating man-made debris possibilities and that should be regulated. These "drones" are an innovating technology. They can be used for so much good in terms of disaster recon, security and resilience and other reasons. But many people use them inappropriately as well.
 
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