Skip Links

Growing sensor network uses lightning strikes to predict hurricane power

By Layer 8 on Fri, 09/07/07 - 1:14pm.

If you live along a coastline this time the year hurricanes can a deadly problem.

NASA, the U.S. Office of Naval Research today said they are using a new and growing set of networked sensors on land, sea and in space that use lightning strikes to help forecasters predict just how powerful an oncoming storm may be. Researchers are using data from a growing network of new, long-range, ground-based lightning sensors, a NASA satellite and aircraft-based sensors. Specifically they are looking at the relationship between hurricane eyewall lightning outbreaks and the intensity of hurricanes.

Researchers say they can now say with greater accuracy how the rate of lightning strikes produced within a hurricane's eyewall is tied to the changing strength of that hurricane. A hurricane's eyewall is the inner heat-driven region of the storm that surrounds the eye where the most intense rainfall and most powerful winds occur, researchers said in a statement. By monitoring the intensity of lightning near a hurricane's eye, scientists will be able to improve their forecasts of when a storm will unleash its harshest conditions.

The network comprises four state-of-the-art, long-range, high-sensitivity sensors located around the central northern Pacific Ocean. Researchers hope to expand the network with eight additional sensor sites by the end of 2008. It is part of the larger North American Lightning Detection Network of nearly 200 sensors that monitors lightning over the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The researchers then combined data from NASA's Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission satellite's microwave radiometers and from sensors onboard the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's P-3 "hurricane hunter" aircraft that fly into the storm, with the enhanced sensor capability of the NASA co-funded Pacific Lightning Detection Network.

Researchers said in a statement that they also used data collected from two of the most severe Atlantic storms on record before they made

U.S. landfall: category five hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

An article on this research, also supported by the U.S. Office of Naval Research, will be published in the American Meteorological Society's Monthly Weather Review later this year.