Public Policy Center, University of Nebraska


Date of this Version



Houston, A.L, J.C. Walther, L.M. Pytlikzillig, J. Kawamoto, 2020: Initial assessment of unmanned aircraft system characteristics required to fill data gaps for short-term forecasts: results from focus groups and interviews. J. Operational Meteor., 8 (9), 111-120, doi:


The integration of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into the weather surveillance network must be guided by the data needs of the principal stakeholders. This work aims to assess data needs/gaps for short-term forecasts (<1-day lead time) issued by the National Weather Service (NWS) and then identify UAS characteristics required to fill these gaps. Results from focus groups and interviews of forecasters in the central United States are presented. Participant verbal responses were coded and then categorized into a set of 25 unique features. Each feature was classified according to four characteristics: 1) environmental properties that need to be measured to represent a given feature, 2) flight type (vertical profile, horizontal transect, and/or survey) 3) flight height required to measure the environmental properties, and 4) relevance of feature to the forecasting of deep convection. Findings indicate the majority of identified features require measurement of typical state variables (temperature, moisture, and wind), but more than a third require visual imagery. Almost all of the features require either survey flight operations or vertical profiles. Additionally, 96% of the features require observations collected below 1000 m. Nearly two-thirds of the features are associated with deep convection. This work represents the first step towards establishing how UAS could be used to fill data gaps that exist for short-term forecasts issued by the NWS. The results stand alone in demonstrating the potential applications of UAS from the perspective of operational forecasters and have also informed ongoing efforts to develop a nationwide survey of forecasters.