NORMAN, Okla. - Remote-controlled drones are not just providing compelling images of storms and tornados, they are changing the way we study and respond to them as well.
"I am about as excited about this technology as anything I've ever come across," said Phil Chilson.
Chilson is a professor at the OU School of Meteorology and is using drones to get vital storm information that they have never been able to get using balloons or manned aircraft.
"One of the problems we have forecasting weather is knowing what's happening close to the earth`s surface. With the onset of drone technology, we realized we can put our sensors on that platform and actually start making measurements that we have been needing for so long. We can better understand when the storms might fire where they are going to fire how intense they might be," said Chilson
Chilson says the drones they make in the own labs have given them a better picture at how tornadoes on the ground actually might trigger other storms.
"This is our current workhorse and it looks small but we have found out that small is really good," said Chilson
These four prop drones have a 3-D printed shell, can fly up to 10,000 feet and withstand 50 mile-per-hour winds.
OSU also using drones. These fixed winged aircraft are being used to gather data by actually flying through the storm.
But drones are not just used for the storm itself; they are becoming vital to search and recovery efforts.
"At this point, I'm flying a drone that is equipped with thermal cameras so we can assist with search and rescue," said Tom Kilpatrick, owner of Cloud Deck Media.
His drones were used in El Reno.
He shot aerials for local first responders the night of and the next morning. He also produced 3-D photography of the aftermath with amazing resolution.
But maybe the most important use: the thermal imaging on the night the tornado flattened a mobile home park.
"They were looking for unknown missing people and perhaps fatalities within the debris," said Kirkpatrick.
Kirkpatrick tells News 4 his drones can be equipped with loudspeakers to broadcast instructions to potential victims in the crowd. The drones can also pinpoint- down the centimeter- a storm shelter on the ground, allowing first responders to see if others might be trapped inside by debris.