November 15, 2004

Curious George: Recording lightning Yesterday we had a pretty good thunderstorm. On the news last night, the weather report included a computer animation of the region from the air with each lightning strike over sped-up real time. How do they know where the lightning hit?
  • How do they know where the lightning hit? they look for the person with the smoldering hair.
  • I'll pull something out of my, er, hat to hazard a guess: Probably some kind of induction triangulation. Or, in other words, lightning creates some pretty impressive broadband radio energy. By detecting this and timing and triangulating the reception, similar to the way GPS receivers determine where they are, the location of the lighting can be determined and plotted. Or it may just be magic.
  • Not sure if this is what you're looking for, but it's kinda interesting.
  • Funny, this is smack right in the middle of my career field: electromagnetic triangulation. OneOliveShort is pretty much right on the money. There are far more sophisticated techniques in use but these generally don't make it to the TV weatherman. In the United States, NLDN has had a longtime monopoly over the collection and data, and is what is often shown on TV. It is about the most restrictive and proprietary type of weather data that the National Weather Service handles. The technology scales down to single-locale triangulation devices, for about $500 but which aren't as accurate (partial list of sites), and even pocket devices (no triangulation). In New Zealand where tracicle is, either some agency has a network of sensors or the station is using a Boltek-type device.
  • And by the way, my career field is meteorology, not electromagnetic triangulation. Next time I'll proofread.
  • oh, man, roly, and here you had me all hot and bothered that that your career field was electromagnetic triangulation. meteorology? feh.
  • Man, you guys are awesome. Thanks! I don't know how accurate the locations were, so it could have been something quite crude. But now I feel much smarter. :)
  • The local (Brisbane, QLD, Australia) lightning map is online thanks to our primary electricity provider. Delayed by 15 mintues. My followup questions are: Why is this information so proprietary? Who is willing to pay for immediate lightning strike data? What is it good for?
  • A little more detail: Under an agreement with our information supplier, we must delay the publication of Lightning Tracker data to the Internet by 15 minutes. Intriguing!
  • What is it good for? From rolypolyman's NLDN (North America, not Oz) link: Key Applications for NLDN Lightning Information Weather forecasting: Help predict severe weather for public warning Electric power utilities: Pre-position field crews for approaching storm threats and to improve engineering and design with lightning analysis Air traffic control: Re-route aircraft around hazardous thunderstorms Airports: Suspend high-risk activities like fueling during lightning threats Insurance and arson: Investigate lightning as the cause of property damage or fire Power-sensitive manufacturing and processing operations: Prepare for storm-caused power outages by switching to back-up power early Hazardous materials handling: Warn personnel working near explosives and flammable materials to evacuate Forestry: Dispatch crews to suspected fire starts for more successful initial attack Golf and outdoor recreation: Warn players to seek safety from storms Launch facilities: Monitor for safest weather conditions for shuttle and satellite launches Why is this information so proprietary? To generate a revenue stream from the above clients and so pay for the detection network.
  • That energex link is pretty boring at the moment (since there are clear blue skies), so I found one in my cache where a bit more was happening. A nice lightning front moving in from the west. And a bit later that evening with about 1000 strikes an hour.