Press Release

NASA Research Helps Highlight Lightning Safety Awareness Week

By SpaceRef Editor
June 21, 2004
Filed under ,

NASA will mark National Lightning Safety Awareness Week, June 20-26, through unique contributions its lightning research makes to climate studies, and severe storm detection and prediction. NASA research is striving to improve our understanding of lightning and its role in weather and climate.

Scientists are seeking information that may someday help
forecasters save lives by improving severe storm warning
lead-time by up to 50 percent. They are also interested in
decreasing the false alarm rate for non-tornado producing

One such tool researchers are using is the North Alabama
Lightning Mapping Array, currently used by the National
Weather Service’s regional forecast offices in Alabama. This
NASA system helps forecasters monitor the weakening and
strengthening of storms to identify those likely to produce
severe weather. These efforts could improve severe storm
detection and lead-time.

NASA researchers at the National Space Science and Technology
Center in Huntsville, Ala., created lightning maps that show
where and how much lightning strikes worldwide. These data
are important to climatologists, since lightning indicates
the location of large storms that release latent heat; the
“fuel supply” that helps drive the Earth’s climate “engine.”

Researchers from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC)
in Huntsville, Ala., have gathered, studied and analyzed
lightning data from virtually all vantage points, seeking a
better understanding of this powerful force of nature. Some
of their most promising efforts involve gathering lightning
data from space. Advances in satellite technology have
already aided efforts to monitor severe weather.

“Sharp, rich pictures of the ever-changing atmosphere are now
available to forecasters in near real-time thanks to sensors
aboard NASA’s newest climate research satellites, Terra and
Aqua,” said Dr. Richard Blakeslee of MSFC.

A new activity — known as Short-term Prediction Research and
Transition, or SpoRT — uses data from a sensor called MODIS,
or Moderate-resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, aboard
these satellites. MODIS gleans between 16 and 100 times more
detail than comparable instruments aboard current weather
satellites, giving researchers a head start in incorporating
highly detailed data into weather forecasts.

“We’re looking to future satellites to provide an even more
comprehensive view of lightning,” Blakeslee added. For
example, the Geostationary Operational Environmental
Satellite, or GOES-R, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration satellite, is scheduled to launch in 2012.
Among its proposed instruments is a lightning mapper that
could observe lightning continually over the United States.

In the United States an average of 67 people are killed each
year by lightning. In 2003, there were 44 deaths. That’s more
than the annual number of people killed by tornadoes or
hurricanes. Many more are struck by lightening but survive
with adverse health affects.

NASA’s Earth Science Enterprise, which funds lightning
research, is dedicated to understanding the Earth as an
integrated system and applying Earth System Science to
improve prediction of climate, weather and natural hazards
using the unique vantage point of space.

For information and lightning images on the Internet, visit:

For information about NASA’s World Lightning Maps on the
Internet, visit:

For information about National Weather Service Lightning
Safety on the Internet, visit:

SpaceRef staff editor.