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UAS Characterization of High Wind Damage to Vegetation and Rural Area Assessments

Article and Figures Provided By: Melissa Wagner (NSSL/CIMM)

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Damage assessments provide insight into the occurrence, intensity, and distribution of tornadoes and other high-wind events. Current ground survey and satellite assessments, however, are restricted by available resources (e.g., personnel, time, and cost), accessibility, technological limitations, and damage indicators used to infer storm intensity. These assessments can be especially challenging in rural areas because storm damage is frequently underestimated due to the inability to detect vegetation stress, limited vegetation damage indicators, and low population density. In these sparsely populated areas, storm damage is often underreported and consequently affects severe storm climatology and our understanding of risk. Underestimating this risk can have serious implications on hazard monitoring as well as disaster preparedness and recovery in rural areas. With the help of the NOAA Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) Uncrewed Systems Research Transition Office (USRTO), scientists from the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory in collaboration with the Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies are working on developing an uncrewed aircraft system (UAS)-based approach to better characterize high-wind damage to vegetation and in rural areas to improve disaster response and recovery.

UAS Missions Supporting Flood Forecasting Following Hurricane Delta Landfall

Article Provided By: Robert Moorhead (Director, NGI) and John Walker (Contract Support For USRTO). Photos Provided By: Robert Moorhead (Director, NGI)

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The NOAA OAR UAS Program, in cooperation with the National Weather Service River Forecast Centers (NWS RFCs) in the Southern Region and the Northern Gulf Institute (NGI; a NOAA Cooperative Institute), established a study several years ago to determine the cost and contributions of UAS-collected data toward improving forecasts and warnings of significant flood events. While the impacts of severe flooding are not isolated to this area alone, according to NOAA NCEI’s 2020 report, U.S. Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters, “The highest frequency of inland flood (i.e., non-tropical) events often occur in states adjacent to large rivers or the Gulf of Mexico, which is a warm source of moisture to fuel rainstorms”. The need for accurate, rapidly obtainable data in this region is all the more emphasized when this fact is combined with other known impacts from land-falling tropical cyclones each hurricane season. 

In October 2020, NGI added to the list of previous successful UAS deployments in support of this study, as the group was once again called into action by the regional NWS RFC to collect aerial flood image data after Hurricane Delta made landfall in Louisiana and passed through Mississippi. 

NOAA Resumes Routine Vertical Profiling Using Small Uncrewed Aircraft Systems to Benefit Weather Forecasts

Article and Figures Provided By: Bruce Baker (ATDD Division Director)

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Since 2015, the NOAA Air Resources Laboratory (ARL) Atmospheric Turbulence and Diffusion Division (ATDD) in Oak Ridge, Tennessee has been using small Uncrewed Aircraft Systems (sUAS) to better understand processes occurring in the lowest few hundred feet of the atmosphere. Much of this work has been conducted during targeted field studies, in which scientists and engineers from ATDD have performed sUAS flights to complement measurements obtained from other weather observing platforms (surface weather monitoring instruments, weather balloons, and radars for example) deployed by ATDD and its collaborators from other NOAA laboratories and universities. 

DRONE TRAINS ITS EYES ON FLOOD WATERS TO IMPROVE FORECASTS

ARTICLE BY MONICA ALLEN, NOAA COMMUNICATIONS, AND PHOTOS / FIGURES FROM ROBERT MOORHEAD, DIRECTOR OF NORTHERN GULF INSTITUTE

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As the Yalobusha River rose around Greenwood, Mississippi, during a major rainstorm in late February, scientists from the Northern Gulf Institute at Mississippi State University deployed a small unmanned plane that took high-resolution images of rising waters and beamed them back in real time to NOAA weather forecasters.

We were able to see the water as it rose over the course of two days, which helped our office confirm when the crest had been reached,” said Dr. Suzanne Van Cooten, hydrologist-in-charge at the NOAA National Weather Service Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center in Slidell, Louisiana. “This visual information really helps us improve our forecasts so we can provide critical information to those in an affected area.” Scientists piloted the 8.5-foot long by 14-foot wide Griffon Outlaw G2E unmanned plane from MSU’s Raspet Flight Research Center in Starkville, Mississippi, equipped with the Overwatch Imaging TK-5 payload -- a system able to take, process and transmit images with 6-inch resolution when flying 4,500 feet above the ground.

The images (Figures 1 and 2) typical real time images for NOAA and FEMA were transmitted to the High Performance Computing Collaboratory at MSU, and could be immediately downloaded by NOAA’s NWS Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center. NOAA forecasters used the information to refine forecasts that are vital to local emergency managers, the public and the area’s farmers.

In a parallel effort, the data was also downloaded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency Region 4 for real-time examination and assessment. “Aerial imagery and other data made available from unmanned aircraft systems is increasingly showing its value as a resource to provide our local, state, and federal emergency managers with actionable information needed to most effectively perform their duties,” said Travis Potter, Remote Sensing and UAS Coordinator for FEMA 4. “The information provided from this operation could be extremely useful toward helping folks on the ground to efficiently distribute resources, manage evacuations, and aid in future recovery efforts.”

Once the plane landed, scientists retrieved higher resolution images stored onboard that can now be used to improve flood prediction models.

“We’re really pleased with the results of this fixed-wing unmanned aircraft system,” said Capt. Philip Hall, director of NOAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program. “The unmanned aircraft and payload shows great potential to provide forecasters with valuable data to improve forecasts as well as flood models. We look forward to continuing to work with the Northern Gulf Institute and NOAA’s National Weather Service to transition the technology into operations."

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