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High-Resolution Observations of Microscale Influences on a Tornado Track Using Unpiloted Aerial Systems (UAS)

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  • 1 a School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona
  • | 2 b Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma
  • | 3 c School of Environmental Sciences, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, United Kingdom
  • | 4 d Department of Geography and Environmental Planning, Towson University, Towson, Maryland
  • | 5 e NOAA/OAR/National Severe Storms Laboratory, Norman, Oklahoma
  • | 6 f School of Meteorology, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma
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Abstract

Topography can have a significant influence on tornado intensity and direction by altering the near-surface inflow. However, past research involving topographic influence on tornadoes has shown significant variety in investigative approaches and conclusions. This study uses unpiloted aerial systems (UAS)–based high-resolution imagery, UAS-based 3D-modeling products, and correlation analyses to examine topographical influences on a portion of the 1 May 2018 Tescott, Kansas, EF3 tornado (EF indicates the enhanced Fujita scale). Two new metrics, visible difference vegetative index (VDVI) gap and VDVI aspect ratio, are introduced to quantify damage severity using UAS-based imagery and elevation information retrieved from a UAS-based digital surface model (DSM). Areas of enhanced scour are seen along the track in areas of local elevation maxima. Correlation analysis shows that damage severity, as measured by both VDVI gap and VDVI aspect ratio, is well correlated with increasing elevation. The VDVI gap is only weakly correlated with slope, and the VDVI aspect ratio is not correlated with slope. These findings are statistically significant at p < 0.05. As the tornado weakened in intensity, the path became nonlinear, traversing between two local elevation maxima. It is hypothesized that fast-moving intense flow formed and weakened as elevation increased over the short spatial distance. This research shows that topography and surface conditions are two of many important variables that should be considered when performing tornado-damage site investigations. It also illustrates the importance of UASs in detailed tornado analysis. VDVI gap and VDVI aspect ratio can provide insight into damage severity as a function of topography.

© 2021 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Melissa A. Wagner, mawagner@ou.edu

Abstract

Topography can have a significant influence on tornado intensity and direction by altering the near-surface inflow. However, past research involving topographic influence on tornadoes has shown significant variety in investigative approaches and conclusions. This study uses unpiloted aerial systems (UAS)–based high-resolution imagery, UAS-based 3D-modeling products, and correlation analyses to examine topographical influences on a portion of the 1 May 2018 Tescott, Kansas, EF3 tornado (EF indicates the enhanced Fujita scale). Two new metrics, visible difference vegetative index (VDVI) gap and VDVI aspect ratio, are introduced to quantify damage severity using UAS-based imagery and elevation information retrieved from a UAS-based digital surface model (DSM). Areas of enhanced scour are seen along the track in areas of local elevation maxima. Correlation analysis shows that damage severity, as measured by both VDVI gap and VDVI aspect ratio, is well correlated with increasing elevation. The VDVI gap is only weakly correlated with slope, and the VDVI aspect ratio is not correlated with slope. These findings are statistically significant at p < 0.05. As the tornado weakened in intensity, the path became nonlinear, traversing between two local elevation maxima. It is hypothesized that fast-moving intense flow formed and weakened as elevation increased over the short spatial distance. This research shows that topography and surface conditions are two of many important variables that should be considered when performing tornado-damage site investigations. It also illustrates the importance of UASs in detailed tornado analysis. VDVI gap and VDVI aspect ratio can provide insight into damage severity as a function of topography.

© 2021 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Melissa A. Wagner, mawagner@ou.edu
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