Powerful hurricanes grab attention from the destruction wielded by wind and storm surge, but its lightning gives forecasters an early indication of whether the storm will intensify or weaken, according to new NASA research.
Although hurricane lightning is often less frequent than our typical Jacksonville thunderstorms, it can be a useful tool for forecasting hurricane intensity.
Lightning is rare in hurricanes, so when the number of lightning flashes close to the storm center increases, it’s a sign the hurricane is about to ramp up.
When a storm is about to weaken, the flash count more than triples, even though lightning is much smaller and less energetic than those during intensification.
The latest satellites help forecasters look closely at lightning flashes across oceans providing an advantage over terrestrial-based lightning detection networks that are limited to areas close to land.
A team of scientists led by NASA researcher Patrick Duran recently published a study on the evolution of lightning flash density, flash size, and flash energy during Hurricane Dorian.
Duran and his colleagues used the new Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) tools, which you can freely use to see lightning for yourself here.
In this study, Duran said: “We were able to prove that the lightning flashes in Hurricane Dorian were larger and more energetic when the storm was intensifying than when it was weakening.”