Press Release

NASA Research Helps HIghlight Lightning Safety Awareness

By SpaceRef Editor
June 19, 2003
Filed under , ,

The arrival of summer brings increased chances of
thunderstorms and dangerous lightning. NASA marks National
Lightning Safety Awareness Week, June 22-29, by highlighting
the unique contributions agency lightning research makes to
climate studies, severe storm detection and prediction.

Lightning is dangerous, so improving our understanding of it
and its role in weather and climate is important. 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. This data is
important to climatologists, because lightning indicates the
location of large storms that release latent heat; the “fuel
supply” that helps drive the Earth’s climate “engine.”

Steven Goodman, Dennis Boccippio, Richard Blakeslee, Hugh
Christian, and William Koshak from NASA’s Marshall Space
Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala., helped create a high-
resolution world map showing the frequency of lightning
strikes. The lightning science team recently presented the
animated lightning maps and 11 technical papers at the 12th
International Conference on Atmospheric Electricity,
Versailles, France.

Goodman said the global lightning maps are “animated maps of
lightning activity worldwide, and have just been updated to
include eight years of data.” The maps are color coded to
indicate concentrations of lightning strikes. Each frame
represents average lightning activity on each day of the
year. These data, compiled from space-based optical sensors,
reveal the uneven distribution of worldwide lightning
strikes, and the maps provide a unique look at climate
information. They also show where lightning activity
increased and decreased during the recent El Nino event.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s
National Weather Service’s regional forecast offices in
Alabama have been using NASA’s North Alabama Lightning
Mapping Array since November 2001. The data have helped to
characterize thunderstorm initiation, identify weakening and
strengthening storms by the change in the rate of flashes,
and evaluate the trend of the flash rate to improve severe
storm detection and lead-time. Understanding lightning has
the potential to improve severe storm warning lead-time by
up to 50 percent and decrease the false alarm rate for non-
tornado producing storms.

NASA’s lightning research is also being applied to aviation
safety. NASA technology is helping aviators avoid
turbulence, over offshore areas, by using surface lightning
measurements and combining them with satellite lightning
data and other measurements.

According to the National Weather Service, lightning kills
an average of 73 people annually in the United States.
Lightning kills more people than hurricanes or tornadoes.
William Valine and Phillip Krider, two NASA-funded
scientists from the University of Arizona, discovered
lightning frequently strikes the ground in two or more
places. This means the risk of being struck by lightning is
45 percent higher than previously thought.

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 more information and lightning images see:

Marshall Space Flight Center World Lightning Maps:
http://www1.msfc.nasa.gov/NEWSROOM/NSSTC/news/photos/2002/photosN02-001.html

New Marshall Space Flight Center Lightning Animations:
http://thunder.nsstc.nasa.gov/images/LISOTD_ClimTS_F_Anim.mov.

Lightning Really Does Strike More Than Twice:
http://www.gsfc.nasa.gov/topstory/2003/0107lightning.html

National Weather Service Lightning Safety:
http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/

Kennedy Space Center Lightning and the Space Program:
http://www-pao.ksc.nasa.gov/kscpao/nasafact/lightnin.htm

SpaceRef staff editor.