When I was two, a tornado plowed through my hometown of Kalamazoo, Michigan, blazing a trail of destruction through the downtown core. The damage was so bad that a few months later, someone in town started printing, “Yes, there really is a Kalamazoo” t-shirts, affirming that the city was still there. My parents tell me that the mess in our yard made me cry and that I was afraid I’d somehow get in trouble for it. We also dug a Kentucky Fried Chicken mashed potato spoon out of the ground (there was a KFC about a mile away) and I still use it as an ice cream scoop. Even though it’s not in tornado alley, Michigan gets it fair share of twisters, but even more than that, it gets a slew of scares. But now there might be a way to more accurately predict tornadoes: drones.
Roughly 70% of tornado warnings are false alarms, which is particularly dangerous as people learn to ignore the sirens. And when one does touch down, residents usually have approximately 12 minutes notice to react—and that’s if they’re listening to weather updates and alerts. That’s generally because scientists don’t quite understand how they form. Sometimes, volatile weather systems become thunderstorms and sometimes they become tornadoes, but scientists don’t know exactly how or why that happens. And even though chasing tornadoes has been the subject of movies and television shows, drones seem like better candidates for the job.
The Sirens Project, now currently in the last 24 hours of its Kickstarter campaign (and less than $800 from its $10,000 goal), wants to develop drones to “get inside” tornadoes to figure out how they form, and to provide a better system of predicting when dangerous storms will occur. The designers want to use UAVs that have the ability to harvest and record information about the barometric pressure, temperature, and relative humidity both near and inside a tornado, as tracked via GPS. The founders liken this approach to getting an MRI of a tornado.
The UAV’s design is inspired by that of a delta-wing aircraft, allowing for high speeds and good maneuverability. The long-range, first person view allows operators to remotely activate the sensors that gather all the relevant data. These sensors are stored in a polycarbonate case for safety and transmission. There’s also a hi-def camera in the sensor package, so there will be plenty of tornado porn later. I wonder if the City of Kalamazoo—and numerous others—would be willing to pledge a view bucks.