When it comes to studying storms, meteorologists and weather forecasters have found drones very useful in capturing the changing conditions of the Earth's atmosphere.
Drone weather photography pioneer, storm chaser and news photographer Brian Emfinger captured some the most mesmerising footage using this high-speed technology. In a video posted to his YouTube channel on May 3, 2021, Emfinger;s drone follows a tornado which was busy making his way across land southeast of Yazoo City, Mississippi, the day before.
Even though the drone was no match to the over powering weather, the video captured still offers a stunning look into the heart of a giant storm.
Storms have wreaked havoc in the American South in recent weeks. Arkansas-based Emfinger has been tracking such storms for more than two decades, photographing everything from lightning to tornadoes. On May 2, 2021, he was chasing a storm that was brewing outside of Yazoo City. Emfinger was able to approach the swirling air column with a drone.
In the background of the video you will notice the GPS directions and the drone control sound. Emfinger was actually almost directly under the drone. He writes, "The tornado caught up with me (I was near/below the drone) so unfortunately the drone didn't make it." The roar of powerful destructive winds can be heard in the background. The Emfinger drone footage is stunning footage of a dangerous tornado and an example of how drones can be used to study these still mysterious weather events.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL), about 1,200 tornadoes occur annually in the United States. Despite their frequency, meteorologists still don't know much about how and why tornadoes form.
Tornadoes are high-rotating columns of air that come down from a thundercloud and make contact with the earth. A column of air that does not reach the earth is called a funnel cloud. Tornadoes can be difficult to see. A normal tornado is visible as a funnel for condensate - water droplets and dust in the rotating air make the column more visible. It may or may not be difficult to see, but the tornado's contact with the ground is revealed by its destruction.
Tornadoes are caused by the circulation of air at different temperatures during storms. Tornadoes are often associated with storms known as supercells. These storms contain mesocyclones (rotating air in the atmosphere). Ultimately, the mesocyclone descends and air of different temperatures converges, forming a near-wall cloud. If the pressure is low and there is a strong updraft, the funnel can drop out of the swirling cloud and touch the ground. Wind speeds in the funnel can exceed 300 miles per hour; However, most tornadoes are much less powerful (although they are still damaging).
Meteorologists closely monitor the weather for signs of tornadoes and examine them when they occur. However, the possibilities of why and when a tornado forms are still the subject of active study. Drone videos like the Emfinger video can be helpful in investigating this type of severe storm. As cool as storm chasing sounds, it's best left to the professionals.