U.S. Department of Commerce


Date of this Version



Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology 35(11), pp. 2265-2288


© 2018 American Meteorological Society.

This document is a U.S. government work and is not subject to copyright in the United States.

DOI: 10.1175/JTECH-D-18-0101.1


The potential value of small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) for monitoring the preconvective environment and providing useful information in real time to weather forecasters for evaluation at a National Weather Service (NWS) Forecast Office are addressed. The general goal was to demonstrate whether a combination of fixed-wing and rotary-wing UAS can provide detailed, accurate, and useful measurements of the boundary layer important for determining the potential for convection initiation (CI). Two field operations were held: a validation study in which the UAS data were compared with collocated measurements made by mobile rawinsondes and ground-based remote sensing systems and a real-time experiment held to evaluate the potential value of the UAS observations in an operationally relevant environment. Vertical profile measurements were made by the rotary-wing UAS at two mesonet sites every 30 min up to 763 m (2500 ft) AGL in coordination with fixed-wing UAS transects between the sites. The results showed the ability of the fixed-wing UAS to detect significant spatial gradients in temperature, moisture, and winds. Although neither of two different types of rotary-wing UAS measurements were able to strictly meet the requirements for sensor accuracy, one of the systems came very close to doing so. UAS sensor accuracy, methods for retrieving the winds, and challenges in assessing the representativeness of the observations are highlighted. Interesting mesoscale phenomena relevant to CI forecasting needs are revealed by the UAS. Issues needing to be overcome for UAS to ever become a NOAA operational observing system are discussed.