The Global Hawk, a drone or unmanned aircraft system (UAS), has been used since 2010 to gather data to improve forecasts. The Global Hawk can release dropsondes that measure temperature, pressure, humidity, and wind up to four times every second, starting at an altitude of up to 60,000 feet until it falls to the ground.
Hundreds of dropsondes were released during 2016 as part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration UAS Sensing Hazards with Operational Unmanned Technology Project (SHOUT) project. A series of numerical weather prediction forecasts were made to test whether these observations improved hurricane and winter storm forecasts. The forecast model was run with and without the dropsonde data to see how much they improved forecasts. Another set of forecasts were made to see how the impact of a possible loss of weather satellite data would be and whether the Global Hawk could fill in for this loss. The runs involved forecasts of Atlantic Hurricanes Matthew and Nicole and a severe tornado outbreak over the southeastern United States in February 2016.
- The Global Hawk dropsondes improve forecasts of where Hurricanes Matthew and Nicole went (what we call “track forecasts”) by up to 30%.
- The Global Hawk dropsondes are partly able to fill in the gap of a possible future loss of satellite coverage.
- The Global Hawk dropsondes released over the Atlantic not only improve forecasts of hurricanes in the Atlantic, but over the entire globe by almost 10%.
- Sampling the Pacific Ocean with Global Hawk observations improved the forecast over the southeastern United States tied to a severe tornado outbreak.
You can read the paper at https://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/abs/10.1175/WAF-D-18-0029.1