All over the world, severe weather such as thunderstorms, strong winds, fog and hail affect the economy and the public safety. To date, weather models lack sufficient observations from the atmospheric boundary layer to accurately predict these local weather phenomena. Weather drones can remedy this situation and close this data gap.
The specially developed, patented Meteodrones operated by our drone pilots offer the innovative possibility to collect weather data from the lower and middle atmosphere. With Meteodrones, it is possible for the first time to carry out high-resolution and direct measurements of temperature, humidity, air pressure and wind, to incorporate these into weather model calculations and thus demonstrably improve weather forecasts.
Challenges of Weather Data Collection
The lowest layer of the atmosphere, called the boundary layer, is where most of our weather takes place. Everyday weather conditions depend on a multitude of variables and factors that are difficult to capture. Consequently, data fed into weather models is insufficient to predict accurately how the weather will actually develop.
Weather Balloons and Weather Stations
Traditionally, weather data is collected with weather balloons and weather stations. However, weather stations, with their static location and proximity to the earth's surface, are severely limited in their measurements. Being earthbound, they cannot take measurements in the upper regions of the boundary layer.
Weather balloons, on the other hand, can rise much higher but have the disadvantage that they cannot be controlled. They are carried by the wind, cannot return to their starting point and may cover the wrong area. As a result, it is impossible to collect important weather data in the form of a vertical column or by vertically surveying the atmosphere.
Another source for collecting weather data can be satellites. They can obtain data on water vapour and cloud formation, but are not suitable for measuring temperature, humidity or wind. Satellite data are often collected only sporadically and can only be fed into weather models with insufficient quality and resolution. Fixed-wing weather drones also have similar limitations. Although they reach a great height and offer a long range, they are extremely expensive to operate.
Although weather satellites play a crucial role in collecting observations and have immensely improved weather forecasts, they cannot provide accurate profiles of wind fields in the cold and lower atmosphere. These data are nevertheless essential for industrial applications and initialisation of models. In addition, clouds are a visible obstacle, preventing satellites from acquiring measurements below them. Therefore, satellites have limited coverage of the planetary boundary layer, resulting in an observational data gap.
One solution to overcome this data gap is the use of radiosondes. Many National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHS) use radiosondes, but there are several reasons why they are not the best solution: The equipment can be expensive to manufacture; they are filled with helium, which is becoming a scarce natural resource; and they are often lost after deployment as the wind carries them up to 250 km from their launch position. However, the data collected is still considered local.
Aircraft are also used to collect weather data. They are often used during storm events, but are also quite expensive to operate. In addition, sending a pilot into a storm brings with it a great risk. A weather drone offers a much lower risk to human life.
Drones do not have this restriction and, with a permit, can be flown at high altitudes just over 1 kilometer (3500 feet) without any problems. Weather drones are so easy to control that they can fly directly into the wind or even into storms to obtain data for a specific location at a specific altitude. Drones also return to their starting point. This makes it possible to use much more expensive and sophisticated sensors and devices on a weather drone.
What Are Weather Drones?
Weather drones are specially developed drones that are used
in weather data collection. They fly in the lowest layer of the earth's
atmosphere, the so-called boundary layer. Equipped with special
sensors, they can collect information about temperature, humidity and
wind in the atmosphere. The collected data helps to significantly
improve weather forecast models.
Advantages of Weather Drones: What Can They Do?
The use of drones in weather data collection offers a major advance over traditional methods of data collection. Weather drones are more manoeuvrable, can withstand sudden wind changes and are thus better equipped to collect vertical data. Measurements near buildings and structures in urban environments or offshore environments can also be taken using weather drones. The accuracy of weather forecast models is thus greatly improved with real time data feeds. With these more accurate models, it will be possible for meteorologists to provide much more precise, hyperlocal forecasts and nowcasts. The use of the accurate forecasts is particularly crucial for air traffic operations at airports or to be able to warn of tornadoes or hurricanes at an early stage. In addition, the data from the boundary layer is used for long-term data collection for climate change research and for a variety of other applications.
Hyperlocal Weather Forecasts for Fog, Hail and Thunderstorms
Measurements from weather drones can help to evaluate current weather models and to analyse and correct forecast models via the real-time data feed. This can only be done with more data from more levels of the boundary layer of an entire country and possibly the world.
Combining the weather drone data with data from local weather models leads to more accurate weather forecasts for local weather reporting.
This hyperlocal forecast can be crucial, especially at airports. With the help of the most accurate weather data, take-off and landing of all flights can be better planned. For example, the amount of time to de-ice aircraft surfaces before take-off can be calculated.
Prepared for the Storm
A reliable weather forecast is especially important when it comes to reducing the impact on life and property. When storms develop, an accurate weather model is especially important.
In regions at risk for tornadoes, the current average warning time is about 16 minutes. Residents are thus warned only 16 minutes in advance before a tornado reaches their location. So there is often no time to evacuate, take cover or protect property. Thanks to weather drones, the response time for warnings can be extended to up to one hour.
Hurricanes are equally difficult to predict. They can take unexpected paths, strengthen unpredictably or dissipate. With the ability of drones to collect data within an active storm, meteorologists and weather scientists will be able to make better predictions about the path or intensity of the hurricane. As a result, better decisions can be made regarding evacuations, storm surge prevention measures and the deployment of relief teams.
How Weather Drones Work
Weather drones can collect data on temperature, humidity, air pressure, wind speed and direction in different ways. One way is via temperature, humidity or air pressure sensors attached directly to the drone.
Another possibility for data collection is offered by so-called dropsondes. Equipped with a parachute, they are dropped from a great height and descend vertically through the boundary layer. In this way, the weather drones collect data all the way down.
Visual imaging, including photos and videos, also offers a way to collect data from the boundary layer.
Meteodrones - Weather Drones From Meteomatics
Meteodrones - The Mobile Weather Station of the Future
Many existing weather models have problems correctly predicting phenomena such as fog, low clouds and thunderstorms. On the one hand, weather phenomena are characterised by local conditions and on the other hand, there is practically no data available, especially in the lower air layers (up to approx. 2 km above ground). In order to make this data available in the future, the Meteodrone - a weather drone - was developed. The Meteodrone is designed to fly within this altitude and collect weather data during the flight to improve weather forecasts.
Innovative Measurement Technology From Switzerland
In the spirit of world-renowned Swiss quality, with our Meteodrones we have fully committed ourselves to the development of a unique measuring technology for the most accurate weather data.
Meteodrones are Swiss design and engineering: from the initial idea to the latest product, we develop our weather drones completely independently and in-house in St. Gallen, Switzerland. A highly trained, highly motivated team with an affinity for technology develops, designs and produces the drones according to Swiss precision and creates a technology that underlines our innovative spirit.
What Makes Meteodrones So Important as Weather Drones?
Meteomatics Meteodrones provide weather forecasters around the world with a reliable and scientifically sound method of collecting weather observations. Meteodrones are specifically designed to collect weather observations from the lower and middle atmosphere.
Meteodrones Are Sustainable
Meteodrones serve as a more sustainable and accurate method of collecting atmospheric data, as they can be deployed and reused as often as needed. Our drones also allow us to fly in many weather conditions and thus capture many local weather phenomena.
Meteodrones Provide Hyperlocal Measurements for Any Location
We call our weather drones the future of the radiosonde. A meteodrone serves as a kind of mobile weather station and offers many advantages over the classic radiosonde. While a probe takes rather uncontrolled measurements due to its direction of flight, our weather drones can be controlled manually on site or remotely. In doing so, the drones can fly on the spot or be sent to remote locations where there are no weather stations and other measurements are impossible. Hyperlocal measurements can be taken for a specific location - even at night.
Nightly Meteodrones Flights Enable Precise Weather Forecasts
In night flights, the drone also collects weather data from the atmosphere up to 6 kilometres above ground. At night, the airspace is less crowded and needs less protection. With our drones, the data is reliably collected, fed into a weather model and calculated overnight. The local weather data is thus regularly included in the forecasts and provides precise weather forecasts for the following day.
Meteodrones Provide Reliable and Continuous Weather Data
Furthermore, they are truly local as the Meteodrone system remains in the same location for the duration of the flight. Profiles can even be taken continuously, as the Meteodrones batteries can be replaced and a new flight can be started immediately.
Advantages of Our Weather Drones Meteodrones at a Glance:
record weather data in the lower and middle atmosphere
enable hyperlocal measurements
can be operated manually or remotely
measure the local column of a location (fly straight upwards)
detect the weather situation in remote, hard-to-reach places
Video Use Case: Atmospheric Research With Meteodrones
Doctoral student in atmospheric science
Meteodrones from Meteomatics are reliable and easy to use. In addition, the meteodrones have significantly advanced our research and enabled us to explore new possibilities in atmospheric measurement.
Cloud Seeding Experiments
Watch the video to learn how ETH Zurich’s researchers are using Meteomatics’ Meteodrones to conduct cloud seeding experiments to study cloud-aerosol interactions and precipitation events.
Our Meteodrone Technology
With our Meteodrones, we now reach an altitude of 6000 metres. By continuously improving the airframe, reducing the weight of the components and using the latest battery technology, we now offer two powerful systems whose different characteristics allow them to be used for different applications.
The Meteodrone MM-641/SSE is the smaller, lighter drone that can fly at higher speeds. The Meteodrone MM-670 (ML), on the other hand, is more suitable for commercial use or reconnaissance missions and can be adapted with different instruments to fit custom requirements if necessary.
Sensors and Measures
- Relative humidity
- Dew point
- Wind speed and direction
All our drone models come in an IP67-rated carrying case and include the drone and ground station, ground station charger, tools, and spare batteries.
Ground Station (Controller)
Each drone is equipped with a ground station that enables a telemetry connection to the drone. All flight-relevant parameters are shown in real time on the display of the ground station. This ensures direct monitoring of the flight and the pilot keeps an eye on the weather drone at all times. The display clearly presents:
Altitude and direction
Current weather conditions
In addition, the ground station collects the most important parameters on an SD card. All collected weather data is stored on an SD card in the drone itself.
The Meteodrone MM-670 is additionally equipped with an Emergency Recovery System (ERS), which is required for flying under Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) conditions and can be controlled from the ground. Parachute systems protect property and people, as well as the drone itself, from damage in case of an unforeseen event. Such an event could be, for example, engine failure or foreign interference.
Meteodrones as One-Click-Sounding System
We have improved the user-friendliness of the Meteodrones by automatically facilitating take-off, flight and landing sequences. For this, we have integrated a function on the mobile ground control station that allows the Meteodrone to ascend with one click. During the ascent, the weather drone measures temperature, pressure, humidity, wind speed and direction. The measurement data is transmitted to the ground control station, analyzed and visualized.
Operation in Bad Weather
Any instrument that flies through the atmosphere is exposed to severe weather and must be built to withstand weather conditions. We have worked to overcome these challenges and create a reliable product for the industry with our weather drones.
We have added a deicing function to our drones, as propeller blades can accumulate ice in temperatures below 0°C with high humidity. The motor drive can deteriorate to the point that the drone crashes. We have developed the anti-icing system in such a way that it is triggered when an icing event is detected. It heats up the rotor blades so that the Meteodrone can operate safely even in icy conditions. The adapted propellers are important to withstand high wind speeds and provide improved flight capability and reliable operation.
In order to additionally be able to fly at wind speeds of up to 50 kts, we have improved the airframe and the drivetrain of the Meteodrone. This is the only way to fly at high altitudes.
When selecting our components, we paid attention to a robust nature that enables it to withstand temperatures down to at least -50°C. Thanks to the optimized frame design, the drone is also waterproof and can be used in rain and snow.
The Meteobase - The Home of our Meteodrones
Since the start of operational drone flights in 2016, every Meteodrone flight has had to be controlled by a pilot. An important step towards nationwide drone deployment was the development of the Meteobase. It enables autonomous drone measurements and is also the drone's "home" from which it takes off, lands and its battery is charged.
As a ground station, it serves as local support for the operation of the Meteodrones. It serves as a communication element between the pilot and the drone or works as a control element for autonomous flights of the drone. The Meteobase consists of a central computer that performs various tasks related to the operation, control and maintenance of the drone and the monitoring and logging of weather parameters at the site.
It also includes the complete launch and landing platform, including the charging station, radio link and ground station, as well as cameras to monitor the immediate surroundings of the box. The cameras make it possible to verify correct landing and visually check the general condition of the weather drone. In addition, the station includes internal climate control (heating, air conditioning) to ensure optimal climatic conditions for the Meteodrones, their electrical components and the batteries. The base is waterproof and snowproof. Rain gutters ensure the drainage of rainwater. Once installed on site, the Meteobase remains permanently or until the end of a time-limited mission.
In 2017, the first prototype of the Meteobase was developed and tested under real conditions. With the help of the Meteobase, the collection of weather data can be expanded in the future.
With the Meteobase, we are aiming for nationwide drone operations and would like to contribute to making weather forecasts considerably more precise with autonomous drone missions. Our vision is a network of Meteobases to automate and remotely control weather drones. The Meteobase will eventually enable simultaneous remote operation of up to 10 different drone systems by just one pilot: at any time, from any location.
Read an article on the roll-out project of autonomous drone systems with Meteobase and Meteodrones in Switzerland.
Approval and Certifications
In Switzerland, Meteodrones may be flown without the pilot's line of sight to the drone thanks to a permit from the Federal Office of Civil Aviation (FOCA) . We are the first Swiss company to receive a permit to fly with small drones "Beyond Visual Line of Sight" (BVLOS). This means that the Meteodrones are also allowed to fly inside clouds and in fog. Since March 2017, the Meteodrones have also been permitted to fly at night beyond visual line of sight up to 6 kilometers above ground, subject to certain conditions.
Data Processing and Meteorological Data for Weather Forecasting
Temporal Profiles of Selected Weather Parameters Lead to a Deeper Understanding of Atmospheric Processes.
Meteomatics offers a more efficient, robust and reusable alternative to radiosondes, allowing weather services to initialize their own models with data by incorporating data collected by a drone flying through the middle and low atmosphere.
The raw weather data is recorded at a data rate of 4 - 20 Hz, i.e. at 4 - 20 measurements per second, and stored on the integrated SD card. Following a flight with a Meteodrone, the weather data is evaluated and processed. Data is saved in various formats that enable meteorologists to easily feed it into their respective weather models. Even time-resolved representations are possible. Once the additional data has been fed into the model, it influences the quality of the weather forecast within a radius of up to 50 km from the starting point of the measurement flight. Such measurements demonstrably improve the forecasts of phenomena such as fog, thunderstorms, icing and hail, which are imperative for aviation, among others..
We fly our Meteodrones operationally in Switzerland to collect data, gain meteorological insights and improve our high-resolution regional SWISS1k weather model. The following images show an interesting case of nighttime meteorological conditions. The white dashed lines show the flight tracks; the y-axis shows the altitude and the x-axis shows the time. The low temperatures, high humidity and weak winds near the ground indicate fog up to 1,000 m altitude.
A strong nocturnal jet is visible between 2,500 m and 3,000 m, bringing a dry layer of air into the atmosphere. At higher altitudes the wind is quite strong, up to ~40 knots.
The advantages of using drones for surveying, monitoring and mapping are obvious. Drone imagery from above enables the creation of mapping products, e.g. through the construction of orthophotos, volume measurements and 3D models of sites. In this way, accurate monitoring can be enabled in various fields such as construction, mining, infrastructure, environment, GIS surveying and agriculture. In addition, data collected by drones can refine weather forecasts, allowing important decisions to be made more efficiently.
Use Around the World
In addition to test flights to further develop our weather drones, their functionality was proven through various projects. Among other things, the Meteodrones were used to explore the atmosphere in different locations.
Flights in the USA
In order to be able to predict tornadoes earlier and more accurately, the Meteodrones were used in November 2016 and May 2017 in Oklahoma, USA. In more than 100 exploratory flights, the drones flew almost 140 km. During the flights, important information was collected from the ground layer. The weather data collected was then integrated into a model to enable the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to make more precise forecasts of tornadoes.
Switzerland as a Location
In order to determine the exact spatial dispersion of pollutants in the Mesolcina Valley, the weather drones have supported a project of the Graubünden Office for Nature and the Environment. During measurements on 6 and 7 December 2016, the focus was on the altitude dependency of the pollutant load, among other things.
Drone-Based Hyperlocal Prediction
In addition to customer-specific projects, the data collected by Meteodrone also flows into our self-developed weather model SWISS1K. Thanks to data with a resolution of up to 1 km, our weather model can make very precise forecasts. High-resolution forecasts such as these open up new possibilities for the energy and water industries in particular, such as the spatial resolution of precipitation.
The high-resolution SWISS1K model in combination with the drone data also excels in specific forecasts of fog formation, icing, as well as thunderstorms and lightning for airspace surveillance. Another example of the positive influence of drone data was demonstrated in the DETAF project (Drone Enhanced Terminal Aerodrome Forecasts) at Zurich Airport.
The usefulness of this data has already been demonstrated throughout Switzerland. SRF - Swiss Radio and Television - is currently making use of these weather forecasts.
Projects for Autonomous Drone Surveying
Conventional drone flights require a drone operator on site each time a survey is conducted, who must maintain visual contact with the drone. Some locations may be inaccessible to a drone pilot, limiting the measurement of valuable data. To solve this challenge, we have implemented autonomous drone survey projects.
Reports and Studies
We have conducted validation studies in partnership with NOAA and MeteoSwiss that have demonstrated the value of Meteodrones observational data in increasing the accuracy of forecasting local weather phenomena.
If you have decided to use a weather drone, our Meteodrones offer a system optimised for your purposes that can withstand all weather conditions.
Send us an enquiry and receive an offer tailored to your needs: no matter the application.
Depending on your requirements, you can make use of our expertise in addition to the product and its accessories. Together with you, we will make a test flight, train you on the use of the drone with a flight training course or even fly the drone on your behalf in a joint project. We have already been able to use our Meteodrones in many application areas.
If you’re interested in demonstrations in Europe, read the article below to learn more about receiving flight authorisation.
Contact us now to receive unique data from the boundary layer.
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