Feature

Text Size

NASA Helps Highlight Lightning Safety Awareness Week
06.20.05
 
Summertime arrives officially on June 21 in the northern hemisphere, and with it comes thunderstorms. As a result, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration named the week of June 19-25 National Lightning Safety Awareness Week.

This time-lapse photography captures multiple cloud-to-ground lightning strokes during a night-time thunderstorm in Norman, Oklahoma. Image to right: An Active Thunderstorm Over Oklahoma: This time-lapse photography captures multiple cloud-to-ground lightning strokes during a night-time thunderstorm in Norman, Oklahoma. Click on image to enlarge. Credit: NOAA Photo Library, NOAA Central Library; OAR/ERL/ NSSL

NASA encourages summer swimmers, picnickers and others to keep an eye on the sky and stay safe during outdoor activities. NASA lightning expert Dr. Dennis Boccippio, of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) in Huntsville, Ala., warns that lightning safety should never be taken lightly. An average of 67 people are killed by lightning each year, and thousands of dollars' worth of property is damaged or destroyed, according to the National Weather Service.

Boccippio and the NASA lightning team study this powerful natural force year-round, using equipment on Earth and in space, to learn how lightning and severe weather interconnect, and to determine new ways to protect lives, homes and property.

The map includes data obtained from NASA's Optical Transient Detector and from NASA's Lightning Imaging Sensor . The yellow and red colors indicate higher concentrations of lightning. Image to left: NASA Marshall Space Flight Center Lightning Map: 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). The yellow and red colors indicate higher concentrations of lightning. Click on image to enlarge. Credit: NASA MSFC

NASA researchers at have created lightning maps that show where and how much lightning strikes worldwide. The maps are color coded to indicate concentrations of lightning strikes. Each frame represents average lightning activity on each day of the year. This data, compiled from space-based sensors, show how lightning strikes are not evenly distributed around the world. This data is not only important to meteorologists, but to climatologists, as well. Lightning indicates the location of large storms that release latent heat; the "fuel supply," that helps drive the Earth's climate "engine."

The National Weather Service's regional forecast offices in Alabama have been using NASA's North Alabama Lightning Mapping Array since November 2001. The data help 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 could help improve severe storm warning lead-time by up to 50 percent and decrease the false alarm rate for non-tornado producing storms.

There are about 1800 thunderstorms in progress over the Earth's surface at any moment, and strikes hit the Earth about 100 times each second.Image to right: Multiple Lightning Strikes: There are about 1800 thunderstorms in progress over the Earth's surface at any moment, and strikes hit the Earth about 100 times each second. Click on image to enlarge. Credit: FEMA

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.

"Knowing the precise location of lighting helps with aviation safety, and helps forecasters locate the most intense regions inside thunderstorms," said Dr. Jeffrey Halverson, Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission Outreach scientist and meteorologist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

Still from movie showing lightning strikes from space. Image to left: Viewing Lightning From Space: There are more than 1,800 thunderstorms taking place around the world at any given instant. This movie was taken aboard NASA's space shuttle. Click on image to view animation (no sound). Credit: NASA/MSFC

For more information and lightning images see:

National Weather Service Lightning Safety

Marshall Space Flight Center World Lightning Maps

New Marshall Space Flight Center Lightning Animations

Lightning Really Does Strike More Than Twice

Kennedy Space Center Lightning and the Space Program

 
 
Rob Gutro
Goddard Space Flight Center