Detecting and predicting lightning just got a lot easier. The first images from a new instrument onboard NOAA’s GOES-16 satellite are giving NOAA National Weather Service forecasters richer information about lightning that will help them alert the public to dangerous weather.
The first lightning detector in a geostationary orbit, the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM), is transmitting data never before available to forecasters. The mapper continually looks for lightning flashes in the Western Hemisphere, so forecasters know when a storm is forming, intensifying and becoming more dangerous. Rapid increases of lightning are a signal that a storm is strengthening quickly and could produce severe weather.
GLM lightning data accumulated over one hour, during which GLM acquired 1.8 million images of the Earth, is displayed over the ABI full disk Band 2 on the afternoon of February 14, 2017. Brighter colors indicate more lightning energy was recorded; color bar units are the calculated kilowatt-hours of total optical emissions from lightning. The brightest storm system is located over the Gulf Coast of Texas, the same storm system in the accompanying video. GLM is able to detect lightning equally well over the entire full disk, including oceans and sparsely populated areas. Coverage of the oceans enables more timely and reliable severe weather forecasts for aircraft traveling oceanic routes where no weather radar coverage is available and for maritime shipping across the entire hemisphere.
During heavy rain, GLM data will show when thunderstorms are stalled or if they are gathering strength. When combined with radar and other satellite data, GLM data may help forecasters anticipate severe weather and issue flood and flash flood warnings sooner. In dry areas, especially in the western United States, information from the instrument will help forecasters, and ultimately firefighters, identify areas prone to wildfires sparked by lightning.
Accurate tracking of lightning and thunderstorms over the oceans, too distant for land-based radar and sometimes difficult to see with satellites,, will support safe navigation for aviators and mariners.
The new mapper also detects in-cloud lightning, which often occurs five to 10 minutes or more before potentially deadly cloud-to-ground strikes. This means more precious time for forecasters to alert those involved in outdoor activities of the developing threat.
This GLM animation sees lightning in clouds from a severe weather system, impacting Texas on Feb. 14, 2017, which also triggered tornados. The GLM monitors an area at 500 frames per second, and can distinguish individual strokes within each lightning flash.