The National Lightning Detection System

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Last updated 11/6/2017, 12:30:58 PM

Your next weatherTAP option is national lightning, where you can actually view where lightning strikes have occurred. A legend below the screen tells you how old the strike is, with white being the most recent. You can choose to just watch lightning strikes or you can add either infrared satellite or visible satellite to the image.

I should note that there is already a tutorial in place for this lightning data. Just select "tutorial" on the National Lightning screen and you'll get a good review of how the lightning data is gathered and much more!

Lightning can give you a good idea of how robust or severe a t-storm is. All thunderstorms produce lightning. In fact, lightning is what makes a storm a storm! Without lightning it just isn't a storm.

So how does lightning even form? Well, we do know that lightning results from a difference in charges. The greater the difference between positive and negative charges, the greater the chance for a lightning strike. We also know that water carries a negative charge and ice carries a positive charge. The bottom of a cloud is mostly liquid, heated in part by rising air that feeds into the updraft that actually builds the cloud in the first place. As we go higher and higher, the air gets colder and ice crystals are allowed to form. This creates difference of negative charges at the base of the cloud, and positive charges at the top of the cloud. Nature doesn't like imbalance, so when this imbalance gets too great.....BOOM... a lightning strike. As soon as that strike takes place, the charges balance out. As soon as the strike is over, the charge differences start building up again. How soon those charges imbalance again determines how long it is until your next strike.

Now, it's rather easy for lightning to travel through that cloud. After all, it's made up of water droplets that conduct electricity rather well. That is why you don't put electrical things in the water! This is one reason why we think there are at least five times more intracloud strikes than cloud-to-ground (CG) strikes. In order for a strike to travel from a cloud to the ground, it has to make it through the air that is in between. Air is not a good conductor of electricity. So, the charge imbalance has to really build up before the strike can happen.

Increased lightning activity can indicate a storm that is intensifying. Some studies have found that a sudden increase in lightning can indicate a developing tornado. The most important thing is to make sure you don't find yourself on the other end of lightning's strike! If you're close enough to hear it thunder, you're close enough to be struck.