Can I Fly My Drone During Winter?

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Of all the seasons, winter can present some of the most challenging weather conditions for drone pilots. Cold temperatures, precipitation, and heavy winds are just some of the potential threats to you and your aircraft. But just because it’s more difficult to fly during winter, doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Here are some tips and helpful hints for safely operating your drone during the winter season.

Battery Life

Arguably, the biggest difference between flying your drone in cold and moderate temperatures is the toll it takes on the flight battery. Most consumer drones rely on lithium-ion polymer (LiPo) batteries for power. As these batteries get colder, their chemical activity lessens, ultimately reducing flight time and increasing the likelihood of power, system, and sensor failure. The easiest, most obvious way to combat power freeze is simply to keep your batteries warm. Companies like DJI offer battery heaters that will raise the battery’s temperature to the optimal range for best performance. However, if that isn’t an option, there is another way to get your battery warm: After takeoff, hover your aircraft for a minute—this will allow the battery to heat up to the optimal temperature without using up too much juice. Also, remember that no matter what precautions you take, batteries will still drain faster in cold temperatures. That’s why it’s a good idea to keep a spare or two on hand and always keep a close eye on your power levels during flight.

DJI Heater for Phantom 3 Intelligent Flight Battery

Snow Precipitation

When we think of winter, our minds typically drift to snow. And while this seasonal hallmark is a delight to many, it can wreak some serious damage to your aircraft. Moisture from precipitation can short motors and other electronics; snow and ice accumulation on the aircraft will add to the weight and throw off flight performance; and so on. Conventional wisdom is if it’s raining out or snow is coming down, keep the drone inside. Now, there is a little bit of leeway with this statement depending on your flyer. More ruggedized vehicles, such as the DJI Matrice 200, are water- and weather-resistant, so they can endure some degree of precipitation. And even the Mavic 2 series, which we tested in Iceland, can handle some drizzle and light rain. But precipitation of any kind should be avoided. What about if it’s not snowing but there is snow on the ground? Even if it’s not actively falling, snow still presents a threat to your vehicle. If there’s snow on the ground, you should consider investing in a launch pad to prevent damage from precipitation during takeoff and landing and because the white ground may not be easily read by automated landing systems.

DJI Matrice 200 Professional Quadcopter

Visibility

Both the FAA and common sense will tell you that flying your drone in low-visibility conditions is a serious and risky no-no. Winter often produces such unfavorable conditions, whether that’s fog, snowfall, or just overall gray dreariness. Before you head out, be sure to check sky visibility to determine if it’s safe. The FAA states that the minimum weather visibility for safely flying your drone is three miles—keep that in mind when determining whether to fly or not.

Camera Performance

If you’re flying over a particularly wintry landscape, you might want to adjust your drone’s camera settings where possible, specifically the exposure and white balance settings. Since it’s incredibly reflective, snow can play merry hell with your camera’s exposure system, causing underexposure in certain shots. Adding stops to compensate for the snow’s brightness can address this issue. You also will want to play around with your white balance settings to ensure that you get the correct color balance of the snow. It will take a bit of tinkering to get the right settings, but your images will come out looking that much better.

You, the Pilot

Your drone isn’t the only asset that needs protection during winter—don’t forget about you. Before you venture out into the cold, be sure to bundle up with appropriate clothing, including a suitable jacket, hat, and gloves. All the flying tips and tricks in the world won’t help a bit if you’re too cold to move your fingers and thumbs.

Questions about flying during winter? Any cold-weather tips and tricks we forgot? Let us know down in the Comments section.

Be sure to check back on B&H Explora for more of Adventure Week: Winter Edition​—and don't forget to follow B&H on Twitter @BHPhotoVideo for up-to-the-minute #adventureweek news.

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