A better heads-up for lightning? This satellite's working on it

Nasa has unveiled the first images from its new instrument that is helping forecasters detect unsafe weather.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA launched the GOES-16 satellite last November to collect more useful data about global weather patterns to help meteorologists in forecasting.

NOAA's powerful new weather satellite is already helping forecasters predict potentially unsafe lightning -before it leaves the cloud. The GLM continually scans for lightning flashes in the Western Hemisphere, which will be enormously helpful for weather analysts of all kinds: Not only can the GLM track lightning in heavy rainfall, it can help firefighters in notoriously arid regions, as well.

According to NASA, this type of lightning occurs five to 10 minutes before cloud-to-ground strikes. It essentially looks for brief, bright flashes of light that indicate the presence of lightning, including both in-cloud and cloud-to-ground strikes. Launched in November 19, the satellite is now observing the planet from an equatorial view approximately 22,300 miles above the surface of the Earth. On the open ocean, NOAA says GLM data can be used to detect lightning more efficiently than a land-based radar.

Scientists showed images from a new space weather tool today that will make tracking and evaluating lightning easier.

The ability to spot it could allow forecasters to send out alerts for those involved in outdoor activities, helping to warn about the threat of potentially deadly lightning strikes. GOES-16 will build upon and extend the more than 40-year legacy of satellite observations from NOAA that the American public has come to rely upon. When it is fully up and running, the satellite will 'provide images of weather pattern and severe storms as frequently as every 30 seconds, which will contribute to more accurate and reliable weather forecasts and severe weather outlooks, ' according to its mission overview page.

The satellite is equipped with six advanced onboard instruments, including Geostationary Lightning Mapper and Advanced Baseline Imager.

  • Joey Payne