Tornado Clean Up Made Quick and Easy
After a tornado scattered large debris across his corn field, a drone map helped farmer Brian Krukewitt pick up the pieces
By Kaylee Fagan, Contributing Writer @DroneDeploy
In the next 24 hours, the strongest hurricane the U.S. has seen in decades is expected to make landfall in Florida. So far, the Category 4 storm has claimed 23 lives in Haiti, and an evacuation has been called for more than 1.5 million residents on the coast of Florida and surrounding states, according to the New York Times. As the U.S. battens down in preparation for Hurricane Matthew, we’re reminded of the many ways drones can be of assistance during natural disaster relief efforts.
On the night of Friday, September 9th, 2016 at least four separate tornadoes careened through east-central Illinois, spreading havoc across at least 3 counties. The National Weather Service confirmed that the strongest storm passed through Champaign county, reaching wind speeds of over 110 miles per hour and maintaining contact with the ground for 17 minutes. While no injuries have been reported, property damage and destruction were widespread. Several homes were picked up and tossed as the tornado passed over, and countless crops were flattened, uprooted, and crushed by falling debris, causing complete devastation for many local residents and farmers.
We got a chance to speak with Brian Krukewitt, who found his corn and soybean fields littered with large debris after the storm had passed, and learned about his resourceful strategy for saving time and crops after the disaster.
New Tech Solving Old Problems
“It was an EF2 tornado,” Brian explained when asked to recollect that night. “It destroyed two of our neighbors’ homes, our corn crib, as well as a couple of bean fields and corn fields. While it was laid down flat, the tornado was throwing out debris randomly.”
Brian is the fourth-generation grower at Krukewitt Farms, where he grows corn and soybeans.
“My dad has always been implementing technology on the farm, now he’s passed the torch to me,” Brian said. After first being introduced to drones via social media, Brian said he was very excited to find multiple uses for his Phantom 3 Pro, both during the growing season and after. Brian has made more than 50 maps with DroneDeploy to date.
When the tornado hit, Brian’s experience with drones helped him create the most efficient strategy for handling this new challenge.
Quick to Destroy, Slow to Recover
The storm had travelled from West to East across Brian’s corn and soybean fields, tossing heavy debris and flattening all the crops in its path. Tall corn stalks were laid over the debris, presenting a uniquely challenging cleanup for Brian.
“Where the tornado had gone and the plants were all flat, we did our best to pick up the debris we could see,” Brian said. “But it was like playing hide and seek with the debris. You’ll walk the field 2 or 3 times and you may not see anything, and then the fourth time you’ll see something.”
“Then we thought it would be a good idea to fly the drone and try to spot any damage or debris that we couldn’t see from the ground,” Brian explained. The first time around, Brian flew manually, hoping to get a general bird’s eye view of the field, all the while doing his best to identify the largest pieces of debris.
Maps Make the Difference
Unfortunately, Brian found that manually flying was still quite tedious and more time-consuming than he had hoped. Limited batteries and low flying height prevented him from exploring the whole field in a timely manner.
Brian then performed an automated flight with DroneDeploy, which he usually uses to monitor plant health. This method proved to be much more advantageous, especially when Brian used DroneDeploy’s annotations tool to mark where the largest pieces of debris had landed on the field.
Brian found it especially helpful to bring an iPad to the field with him the next day, so that he could consult the map while collecting the debris with a skid steer.
“Every time I could see a pretty big spot on the map, I would drive there and there’d be some part of a wall or a bunch of wood there. We’d be scrolling through the imagery and there’d be a ten foot beam lying out in the field,” Brian recollected.
“We saved a lot of time that day, because we were able to go right to the big stuff.”
In multiple instances, debris had been flung across the field, but the surrounding corn remained untouched. For these areas, Brian’s team will wait to retrieve the debris until they harvest. “This is mainly where the map is going to come in handy,” Brian said. “Once you get started with harvest, you want to go to the end — it’s a grind. Having the debris out there makes it even worse. You have to go at a snail’s pace and be extra careful to not damage any of the harvest equipment. When the time comes, we’ll take an iPad out there with us so we know exactly what we’re dealing with, what we can go around, and what needs to be picked up.”
In the end, flying manually had been helpful at first, but Brian said he regrets not mapping with DroneDeploy sooner. “We could have saved another half of a day if we had used the maps earlier,” he explained.
“Having the map on an iPad made all the difference.”
The Most Efficient Solution
But with all setbacks considered, drone technology was able to simplify what would have been a very tedious and slow extraction for Brian and his team.
Firstly, the high-resolution 2-D map allowed Brian to spot debris that had been overlooked. “There were a few times where we could see some disturbance on DroneDeploy, go there in the field, and sure enough — there would be a piece of wood there. Even in places we had checked before and found nothing.” The map also provides a exportable record of the debris, which is going to make a huge difference for Brian when it’s time to harvest.
Without the drone, Brian explained, he and his team would have needed to comb the field on foot, or have been forced to contract someone that could get an aerial image with a helicopter, which can get quite pricey. “But then again, we wouldn’t be able to use an ipad with a helicopter image,” Brian added. “What we got with the drone saved us a whole lot of trouble.”
Innovation to Combat Devastation
According to the National Weather Service, an average of 55 tornadoes touch down in Illinois annually, and cause widespread devastation for farmers and property owners all throughout the state. And while the average tornado can decimate a corn field in less than a few minutes, recovering from these disasters often requires countless hours of “slow, grueling” labor.
Drone maps can not only help make clean-up more efficient, as Brian discovered, but they can also help growers demonstrate losses when filing insurance claims, helping recover more money to compensate for damage.
Although tornadoes can be difficult to predict and nearly impossible to avoid, Brian’s example demonstrates the potential of drones for the future of natural disaster recovery. As drone technology becomes more commonly used on farms across the country, more farmers will be equipped with the tools to quickly take stock of the damage and begin cleaning up and rebuilding after nature’s most devastating weather events.
Where to Learn More
Explore our support documentation to learn more about how to use some of the tools discussed above, including:
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