When tornadoes and hurricanes topple power lines in the future, utility companies could track the damage with flying drones.

Power companies are experimenting to determine whether small drones can spot trouble on transmission lines or get into hard-to-look places deep inside power plant boilers.

That's just the beginning. Southern Co. told federal regulators it hopes flying drones could eventually help it spot tornado-inflicted damage to transmission lines that can leave thousands of people in the dark following big storms.

Southern Co.'s application explained that when roads are impassable for utility crews or electrical equipment is difficult to approach, drones can provide an up-close view.

Federal records show about a dozen utilities or service providers have requested to fly drones for similar reasons.