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See lightning from space

How to spot when lightning heads to your location

Lightning in a squall line moving across Gainesville to Tampa Bay with a few flashes over Jacksonville on January 24, 2019
Lightning in a squall line moving across Gainesville to Tampa Bay with a few flashes over Jacksonville on January 24, 2019 (https://col.st/Edujw)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Lightning can be detected anywhere over Jacksonville and the United States from space and now you can use this information to stay safe from getting struck.

The Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) on the GOES 16 satellite is the first operational lightning detector in orbit. 

The GLM continuously measures all lightning activity across most of the Western Hemisphere in real time and can be monitored on websites to see if lightning is increasing near your location.

Concentrated flash density areas can be used to help identify the start of convective thunderstorms and locate the strongest storm cores, and potential severe impacts.

In fact, when lightning flash density increases it can signal to forecasters a storm could turn severe. In turn, forecasters can issue timely forecast warnings. 

The areal extent of flashes can be viewed as well, allowing forecasters to better see “bolt out of the blue” lightning and communicate to the public when flashes may occur away from precipitation.

Lightning tracking from space offers advantages to boaters away from land-based lightning detection networks. 

Ground-based networks excel at capturing cloud-to-ground strikes, with greater than 80% detection where observations are dense but have varying detection efficiencies between 40% and 70% elsewhere and for in-cloud lightning.

GLM captures more than 70% of all strikes regardless of type, and over 90% of lightning activity at night, when illumination is easier to detect. 

So how do you find this data? The Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere provides a website here. You can set the time frame for current lightning strikes or look at an archive. 

Unfortunately, the GLM does not decipher between cloud to cloud and cloud to ground lightning. 
Regardless if a bolt shows up on the map nearby, seek shelter.


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