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For more information contact:

Gretchen Cook-Anderson
Headquarters, Washington
(Phone: 202/358-0836)

Rob Gutro
Goddard Space Flight Center,
Greenbelt, Md.
(Phone: 301/286-4044)

Steve Roy
Marshall Space Flight Center,
Huntsville, Ala.
(Phone: 256/544-0034)

Viewable Images

Caption for Item 1: LIGHTNING STRIKES!

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. This is a photograph of multiple cloud-to-cloud and cloud-to-ground lightning strokes caught using time-lapse photography during a night-time thunderstorm. CREDIT: NOAA Photo Library OAR/ERL/NSSL


Imaging Sensor (LIS) Science Team Data from space-based optical sensors reveal the uneven distribution of worldwide lightning strikes, with color variations indicating the average annual number of lightning flashes per square kilometer. The map includes data obtained from April 1995 to February 2003 from NASA's Optical Transient Detector; and from January 1998 to February 2003 from NASA's Lightning Imaging Sensor (LIS). CREDIT: NASA MSFC Lightning


There are more than 2,000 thunderstorms taking place around the world at any given instant. This view was taken aboard the space shuttle. Scientists have a variety of tools for studying lightning including satellites, weather balloons, airplanes, and computer models. Better lightning predictions could improve public safety and benefit construction companies, amusement parks and utilities. CREDIT: NASA/MSFC


This is a list of lightning casualties across the contiguous United States between 1959 and 1994. It was created by the National Weather Service from lightning reports on fatalities, injuries and damages across the United States over that time period. Florida stands out as the state with the most fatalities at 1,523 over the 35 year period. Pennsylvania, North Carolina, New York and Texas are the states with the next largest numbers of fatalities. Alaska and Hawaii reported no lightning-related deaths over that period. CREDIT: National Weather Service

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June 21, 2004 - (date of web publication)



This is a photograph of multiple cloud-to-cloud and cloud-to-ground lightning strokes caught using time-lapse photography during a night-time thunderstorm.

Item 1


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.



Item 2


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 storms.

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.


This is a still from a movie taken aboard the space shuttle.

Item 3


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.

Lightning Fatalities, Injuries and Damage By State 1959-1994 (Source: National Weather Service)

Alabama 296
Alaska NA
Arizona 164
Arkansas 355
California 79


Connecticut 88
Delaware 42
Florida 1523
Georgia 410
Hawaii NA
Idaho 87
Illinois 360
Indiana 238
Iowa 227
Kansas 234
Kentucky 278
Louisiana 347
Maine 126
Maryland 250
Massachusetts 355
Michigan 732
Minnesota 169
Mississippi 295
Missouri 176
Montana 64
Nebraska 111
Nevada 18
New Hampshire 76
New Jersey 185
New Mexico 249
New York 577
North Carolina 629
North Dakota 35
Ohio 545
Oklahoma 331
Oregon 26
Pennsylvania 644
Rhode Island 49
South Carolina 306
South Dakota 79
Tennessee 473
Texas 498
Utah 116
Vermont 30
Virginia 235
Washington 40
West Virginia 108
Wisconsin 241
Wyoming 104

For more information, visit these websites:

Marshall Space Flight Center World Lightning Maps

New Marshall Space Flight Center Lightning Animations Lightning Really Does Strike More Than Twice

National Weather Service Lightning Safety

Kennedy Space Center Lightning and the Space Program

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