All Weather News

New Research Leads to New Definition of Lightning

19 Jul 2017, 1:50 pm

New Mexico Tech scientists have measured lightning strikes that have been declared the longest duration and the longest distance ever recorded.

The new study is based on fundamental research and development by Tech professors Ron Thomas, Bill Rison, and Paul Krehbiel. Over the past 20 years, they developed the Lightning Mapping Array, or LMA, which has produced detailed records of lightning behavior.

A new publication in Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society details a lightning discharge that travelled more than 200 miles in Oklahoma in 2007 and another discharge that lasted 7.75 seconds in France in 2012.

[Lightning near Grants, New Mexico by James St. John from CC BY 2.0]

The new studies have prompted atmospheric scientists to redefine the term “lightning,” which previously had been limited to flashes that are less than 1 second in duration.

The radio waves created by lightning travel about one foot per nanosecond. With equipment that captures information every 40 nanoseconds, the LMA sensors can pinpoint a three-dimensional location of lightning within about 40 feet.

Tech’s pioneering research into lightning has led to a series of breakthroughs, including proprietary sensing technology that allows scientists, meteorologists and storm chasers to pierce the veil of clouds to “see” lightning as it occurs. The sensing stations can store up to three months of radio wave information and will run unattended.

Lightning Mapping Array sensors are currently deployed at more than a dozen locations around the world, including NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., and airports.

From New Mexico Tech

For WeatherNation: Meteorologist Mace Michaels

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