Data-driven approaches for tornado damage estimation with unpiloted aerial systems

Zhiang Chen, Melissa Wagner, Jnaneshwar Das, Robert K. Doe, Randall S. Cerveny

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Tornado damage estimation is important for providing insights into tornado studies and assisting rapid disaster response. However, it is challenging to precisely estimate tornado damage because of the large volumes of perishable data. This study presents data-driven approaches to tornado damage estimation using imagery collected from Unpiloted Aerial Systems (UASs) following the 26 June 2018 Eureka Kansas tornado. High-resolution orthomosaics were generated from Structure from Motion (SfM). We applied deep neural networks (DNNs) on the orthomosaics to estimate tornado damage and assessed their performance in four scenarios: (1) object detection with binary categories, (2) object detection with multiple categories, (3) image classification with binary categories, and (4) image classification with multiple categories. Additionally, two types of tornado damage heatmaps were generated. By directly stitching the resulting image tiles from the DNN inference, we produced the first type of tornado damage heatmaps where damage estimates are accurately georeferenced. We also presented a Gaussian process (GP) regression model to build the second type of tornado damage heatmap (a spatially continuous tornado damage heatmap) by merging the first type of object detection and image classification heatmaps. The GP regression results were assessed with ground-truth annotations and National Weather Service (NWS) ground surveys. This detailed information can help NWS Weather Forecast Offices and emergency managers with their damage assessments and better inform disaster response and recovery.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1669
JournalRemote Sensing
Issue number9
StatePublished - May 1 2021


  • Damage assessment
  • Deep learning
  • Gaussian process, tornado damage
  • UAS

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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