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Storm-Chasing Drones Help Fight Extreme Weather


U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and Philippine technical experts are ready for deployment across the country to support drone agricultural missions. (Photo courtesy of FAO)

U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and Philippine technical experts are ready for deployment across the country to support drone agricultural missions. (Photo courtesy of FAO)

Some countries are using drone technology to prepare for major weather events and observe severe storms as they happen.

One place where drones are used to follow the weather is the Philippines, where natural disasters kill many people every year.

In the past 10 years, earthquakes, powerful storms and floods have claimed thousands of lives across the large Philippine archipelago.

On average, about 20 typhoons hit the country each year. In 2013, Typhoon Haiyan struck the islands, leaving 6,300 dead and four million others without homes or food.

The Philippines has begun using drones to survey farmland to help identify storm risks and prepare for weather disasters.

The country’s Agriculture Department is using drones equipped with high-tech sensors to map and take pictures of large areas. The department’s director of field operations, Christopher Morales, says the unmanned aircraft can fly over and study an area of up to 600 hectares a day.

“Before, we were just concentrating on reports of our local program and counterparts. Usually it might be overestimated or underestimated. By the use of drones, we have a scientific tool to analyze this data and provide appropriate interventions.”

The information collected by drones can help farmers decide what steps to take to prepare for storms.

Morales said the drones are very efficient and can even be used right before big storms hit.

“In the future, and if the investments of the government will come in, we will use these in the typhoon-prone areas also. So that a day or two before the typhoon (has made) landfall in the Philippines, we can approximate or do an estimation of pre-disaster assessment so we can plan ahead and respond accordingly.”

Currently, the Philippines is experiencing one of the driest periods on record, in part because of strong El Nino weather conditions. So the government is now working with private companies to develop a prototype drone for cloud seeding.

Morales noted that using drone aircraft for this purpose can save lives. Two years ago, one worker died during a cloud-seeding operation.

The government plans to deploy full agricultural drone teams across the Philippines in the near future.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Rosanne Skirble reported on this story for VOANews.com. Bryan Lynn adapted this story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

What uses would you like to see for drones? We want to know. Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page.

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Words in This Story

drone – n. an unmanned aircraft or ship guided by remote control

typhoon – n. an extremely large, powerful and destructive storm

archipelago – n. a group of islands

survey – v. to look carefully and completely at something

sensor – n. a device that detects or senses heat, light, motion, etc.

efficient – adj. producing desired results without wasting materials, time or energy

prototype – n. a first test model of something that is then developed and copied

cloud seeding – n. when various substances are put into clouds in an attempt to cause rain

concentrate – v. to focus one’s attention or mental effort on a particular object or activity

counterpartn. Something having the same function or characteristics as another

analyzev. to study something closely or carefully

assessmentn. the act of making a judgment about something​

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