Flying Drones in Cold Weather. Is it Safe or Dangerous?

On the day this drone post was written, New York City, my area of residence has suffered from record cold temperatures. As I write this post, it is currently 18 degrees Fahrenheit.

Last night was 10! Being a drone pilot at the same time, I have to figure out how to take my “birds” out during this very cold season so the batteries don’t discharge faster.

What is one to do?  Well if you’re in a similar situation as me, there’s generally simple rules about flying drones in cold weather. The real question is:

  • How cold are we talking?
  • How windy is it?
  • Is there any snowfall, hail, rain? 

These are the 3 main questions you should ask before you take your bird out for a flight. With the exception of the Inspire series and a few other TOP tier models that actually have heated batteries, with others like the Phantom and below in level, you will need to adjust your drone flights accordingly and that’s what we’ll cover:

First: How cold is TOO cold? 

Generally as long as the drone flies within a temperature range of 0-40 degrees Celsius, it should be fine. But what about below freezing?

Well in that case, as long as the weather is clear, you should be fine to fly. However, there are some precautions that need to be taken:

1) Ensure that you “warm up” the bird and especially the battery before it takes flight. Start it up, let the motors run for a bit and basically “idle”. Anyone who owns a Spark, Mavic or Phantom knows that when they start up those models that they will make the type of noises airplanes do. That’s an indication that it’s running well and warming up, so let it, especially in that freezing weather. 

Depending on WHERE you start up the model, you should let it run idle for a little bit more time. For example:

If you’re outside and it’s below freezing, let the bird warm up for several minutes.

If you’re inside a house, a car or any area where the starting room temperature is fine, let it warm up for less than a minute. 

When actually flying, try not to take the drone too far or too fast, as the cold WILL impact the rotors, motors and basically the whole system. In short, you WILL get a shorter flight time when you attempt to take flight in cold and especially freezing temperatures, so do not freak out if you see the battery drain faster (here are tips for taking care of the battery), it’s normal and what CAN hurt it is if you don’t let the bird warm up enough before the flight, so definitely let it.

If you find yourself in a situation where the temperature is WAY below freezing, consider not even doing a flight that day, but if you absolutely must, use it for a shorter amount of time, take the necessary videos/photos you need to, then come home. 

Alright, onto the wind part. 

Normal models like the Mavic, Phantom, Typhoon H (what’s the difference?) and higher tend to have a higher threshold for combating wind conditions, up to 30 mph in some cases, but when you add a layer of cold and freezing weather to that, you really have a big risk on your hands using these things. 

I would recommend not taking the model out for a flight if it’s VERY windy and freezing. If nothing else, only do a few minutes because your battery will drain even faster, you will likely get a lot of beeping noises warning you about the conditions and recommend you bring it back. 

Also, keep it close to you. Should an emergency event happen and/or if the battery drains too fast, you will want the bird to be close enough to you. 

And finally, when it comes to snow, rain, hail…

My position is that if ANY of these conditions exist, you should absolutely NOT fly your drone. Most of the models out right now, at least the ones I own are not built to withstand this type of weather, so even a little bit of moisture will absolutely cause potential damage that is irreversible. 

Rain: Don’t. Any water that gets into the drone will potentially screw it up.

Snow: May as well call it rain too, because it will melt as it touches the model. 

Hail: Do we even have to ask? The answer is NO.

It only takes one little piece of ice to hit the propeller the wrong way to make the whole bird fall. I know this is probably common sense, but you’d be surprised at how foolish certain pilots are.

Mist/Fog: It’s just another form of rain and while a lot of people have used their models in this, I would not recommend it. If I see any moisture in the air, I have a strong rule of NO for taking out the model to fly. But I have seen people fly through it and make videos of it and frankly, I wouldn’t risk that…

Only take the risk if…

The above 2 conditions I listed on the temperature and wind conditions are basically conditions where you can fly IF and only if it’s not that windy and the overall area is clear.

We’re talking sunny, no sign of rain, snow or any other precipitation. If there is…don’t take the chance. I’ve had my moments where even a little bit of rain almost had me take out my model/s and use them, but rationale got the best of me and to this day, I am happy I didn’t do it. It’s not worth risking one beautiful shot for one expensive model.

Other cold conditions to consider:

Are you keeping your model in an area where it’s relatively warm? If you’re not, you should be. 

Never keep your drone outside in the freezing weather or overnight in a car. Basically any area where it’s super cold will impact the battery negatively and cause it to drain faster. Then, if you try to turn it not and warm up it up enough, it will cause potential damage.

Always try to keep your model in a safe, warm place if possible, any area with above freezing temperatures and preferably room temperature is fine. 

Update: Planning on flying in HOT weather?

There’s just as many dangers, which require similar and different safety tips. I’ve just written about here. Enjoy!

2 thoughts on “Flying Drones in Cold Weather. Is it Safe or Dangerous?”

  1. Thank you for this article! I live where the temperatures got severely cold recently. I was wondering about this. You mention 0C as a good rule of thumb. That’s unfortunately a bit too often around here. Sounds like I need to keep it locked up for a while. Are there any models especially made for the cold? Thank you!

    Reply

Leave a Comment