NOAA’s new satellite captures first lightning images

Detecting and predicting lightning just got a lot easier.

NOAA’s GOES-16 satellite captured its first lightning images from a complex of thunderstorms in Southeastern Texas on the morning of February 14th. Frequent lightning is occurring with the convective cells embedded in this severe weather system. The green cross indicates the location of Houston, and green dotted lines indicate the Texas coastline. This animation, rendered at 25 frames per second, simulates what your eye might see from above the clouds.

At the time of this animation, the storm cell in the center of the frame was reported by the NWS to have spawned one of a number of tornadoes and damaging winds.

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.

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.

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