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High-Tech Lightning Watching
April 1, 2008 8:55 PM   Subscribe

A cool map of lightning frequency over time across the globe. And a live version for the U.S. Heck, a zoomed-in version on the Northeast for the past 60 minutes. It turns out that you can even buy a small Lightning Detector to map local lightning strikes on your PC. It listens for the signature static crashes from lightning, sometimes called sferics (short for atmospheric noise), much like you can hear on an AM radio during a storm. You can even listen to streaming audio from NASA's (Alabama) VLF receiver.
posted by fogster (22 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
(I want to clarify that I'm not endorsing the Boltek product, which I've never used or even heard of until earlier today.) This is my first FPP, so please go gentle on me.
posted by fogster at 8:56 PM on April 1, 2008


Weather Underground displays lightning strikes on NEXRAD radar (at least, they do for my area), along with thunderstorm pathing and all kinds of other cool junk.
posted by spiderwire at 9:27 PM on April 1, 2008


Very cool. The Congo Basin looks like Earth's Inferno. According to Wikipedia:
On average, lightning flashes occur on earth about 100 times every second. 80% of these flashes are in-cloud and 20% are cloud-to-ground. The spot with the most lightning lies deep in the mountains of eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, near the small village of Kifuka which has an elevation of 3,200 feet (975 m). Thunderbolts pelt this land, and each year on average, 158 bolts occur over each square kilometer (equivalent to 10 city-blocks square).[75] Singapore has one of the highest rates of lightning activity in the world.[76] The city of Teresina in northern Brazil has the third-highest rate of occurrences of lightning strikes in the world. The surrounding region is referred to as the Chapada do Corisco ("Flash Lightning Flatlands").[77] In the US, Central Florida sees more lightning than any other area. For example, in what is called "Lightning Alley", an area from Tampa, to Orlando, there are as many as 50 strikes per square mile (about 20 per km²) per year.[78][79] The Empire State Building is struck by lightning on average 23 times each year, and was once struck 8 times in 24 minutes.
posted by stbalbach at 9:27 PM on April 1, 2008


I was just about to strike you with a lighting bolt fogster... and then I read your plead for gentleness.

This is very cool. I had read somewhere a figure of some insanely counterintuitive number of lighting strikes per second globally, nice to see that fact visualized.
posted by pwally at 9:27 PM on April 1, 2008


I was about to post the exact same comment as stbalbach; neat post and damn, there's a lot of lightning strikes in the center of Africa... lightning storms are the best.
posted by spiderwire at 9:29 PM on April 1, 2008


It seems we are all very huge nerds, congratulations us.
posted by pwally at 9:31 PM on April 1, 2008


Yeah, I saw a documentary about that part of Africa many years ago...obviously, a lot of people's homes, which tend to be mud/straw constructions, get hit each year. So they've worked out that they can bury a ring of copper wire in the soil around each house, attracting the lightning to this instead of the house.

Of course, now I've said that, I can find no evidence of it at all online. Anyone who can confirm my story will be thanked.
posted by Jimbob at 9:35 PM on April 1, 2008


There's a ton of other natural phenomena you can hear on VLF, too— atmospheric (magnetospheric) and even geologic. It seems like an interesting band.
posted by hattifattener at 9:45 PM on April 1, 2008


I'm surprised StormTracker works as well as it claims to - I always figured those lightning strike maps were produced through triangulation from multiple receivers, much like how they plot earthquakes. Interesting.
posted by Jimbob at 9:47 PM on April 1, 2008


Lightning blue! I keeed, Good post!
posted by jeblis at 9:49 PM on April 1, 2008


Pilots have known about his for a long time.
posted by pjern at 10:11 PM on April 1, 2008


Excellent first post fogster!
posted by peacay at 10:52 PM on April 1, 2008


Man, what is up with the Congo?

I guess next time I try to spontaneously re-generate life in a stitched-together (very carefully stitched-together, mind you) bag of body parts I've robbed from freshly dug graves, the place to set up shop is the darkest jungles of the Congo.

Or Singapore.

Singapore? Well, at least there'll be good take-out.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:48 AM on April 2, 2008


The black area in Central Africa...

Oi.
posted by AmberV at 4:10 AM on April 2, 2008


Agreed: excellent post (particular for your first). I wish the Boltek stuff wasn't so expensive. I'd like to join the network.

Last year, Nokia got a patent on technology that uses triangulation between cellular towers to determine lightning position. New Scientist had an article on it.
posted by spock at 5:43 AM on April 2, 2008


(Continued)
Software on your cell phone will then interpret them, work out the distance to the lightning, and tell you if strikes are getting closer."

The thing that is interesting about this (to me) is that this isn't telling you how far the lightning is from the towers but from your phone itself. —Triangulate the strike from the towers, triangulate your position from the towers (or use the phones built-in GPS capabilities?) and calculate the distance between the two points.
posted by spock at 5:50 AM on April 2, 2008


Yup, aircraft strike detectors have been around for a few decades. They are very sensitive to electrical noise, so it actually takes quite a bit of work to find just the right spot to mount the antenna on the fuselage. Couldn't really tell you how they work, though, that's a little bit out of my realm of expertise.

Like everything, they are of limited value unless you really know what you're looking at and how to use them. And, there's always the chance that some hot dog will install a Stormscope in their aircraft and try to fly through some heavy shit by cutting in between lightning strikes. It's really not the lightning that will damage an aircraft, but the strong convective activity in and around thunderstorms.

Newer models are a little more sophisticated - they can be heading and position stabilized so that the display will dynamically update as the aircraft moves. Older ones... well, when I was training for my license I flew in an older Piper that had a Stormscope. The entire flight we had an amazing amount of lightning activity following us. Turns out it was the beacon light on the tail setting off the detector.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:05 AM on April 2, 2008


Cool post. Poor eastern Congo, though. As if they didn't have enough problems.
posted by 912 Greens at 7:48 AM on April 2, 2008


So they've worked out that they can bury a ring of copper wire in the soil around each house, attracting the lightning to this instead of the house.

Sounds intriguing--I wonder how this works.

158 bolts occur over each square kilometer
Living in a low lightning area, I can't even imagine what it is like to be in a place with so much lightning. Your odds of getting hit seem pretty high.

Dr. Frankenstein could build a pretty impressive lab.
posted by eye of newt at 8:33 AM on April 2, 2008


Living in a low lightning area, I can't even imagine what it is like to be in a place with so much lightning. Your odds of getting hit seem pretty high.

Yeah, but then again, you quickly get used to local environmental hazards. I bet the people who live in Kifuka would say the same thing about American freeways.
posted by vorfeed at 8:48 AM on April 2, 2008


I can't even imagine what it is like to be in a place with so much lightning.

I grew up in tornado alley in Florida, and used to love watching the daily 4 o'clock lightening storms in the summertime. Most lightening is cloud-to-cloud, anyway, so after a while you develop a kind of defiant anti-fear to getting struck that's only temporarily broken by the occasional "shotgun" blast that might hit a bit too close for comfort. Those'll make you run indoors, I don't care how brave you think you are.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:39 PM on April 2, 2008


Those'll make you run indoors, I don't care how brave you think you are.

Hmm. I don't have this reaction to close lightning strikes. I don't chalk it up to bravery so much as an ingrained notion that lightning really doesn't strike in the same place twice -- it's certainly very scary, but my first reflex is to let loose a string of expletives. We get some decent lightning storms in Austin sometimes, so this has happened quite a few times :)
posted by spiderwire at 6:04 PM on April 3, 2008


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