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Sustainable Ecosystems and Community News: Using Lightning to Predict Severe Storms



From: Charlotte Owen, SciDevNet, More from this Affiliate
Published December 26, 2013 08:59 AM

Using Lightning to Predict Severe Storms

An alternative to costly radar-based weather services could soon be operational in developing nations, to help them detect severe storms more cheaply and quickly.

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The technology, which uses lightning detection to forecast when and where storms will strike, has already proven successful in demonstration projects in Brazil, Guinea and India. Next year, Earth Networks — one of the companies at the forefront of the technology — will conduct further trials in Haiti.

As more developing nations increase their numbers of mobile phone masts, which are ideal locations for mounting the lightning sensors on, the proportion of countries using the technology looks set to increase, according to the US company.

Lightning detection costs a fraction of traditional Doppler radars, which can cost tens of millions of dollars for broad regional coverage.

It also collects data faster and, by monitoring precipitation, can be used to assess the likelihood of floods and drought. According to Finnish company Vaisala, which has more than 100 lightning detection stations located in the United States, when lightning is detected the data can be delivered in less than two minutes.

Vaisala's Total Lightning system detects the electromagnetic signals given off when lightning strikes the earth’s surface. Information on the location, time, and strength of each strike, and on whether it is positively or negatively charged is then processed and communicated to users of the technology.

Earth Networks also uses cloud computing capabilities and algorithms to provide automated alerts for thunderstorms, tornadoes and other forms of severe weather, which can be configured to be sent to mobile phones.

The company foresees these alerts being delivered to millions of mobile phone users around the world. In cases of severe weather with lightning, the notifications have been shown to "alert 50 per cent faster than warnings based on other technology currently available, providing 27 minutes, on average, of lead time," according to Earth Networks.

Continue reading at ENN affiliate, SciDev.Net.

Lightening image via Shutterstock. 

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