Counting on Lightning to Predict Hurricane Intensity

lightning-weather-vane-photoHurricanes are Earth’s most deadly storms, causing tremendous devastation and loss of life around the globe every year. There is some evidence that the number and intensity of hurricanes may also be changing as a result of global warming.

Until now hurricanes had been somewhat a mystery, due to them spending most of their lifetimes over the tropical oceans, where few people live, and few measurements are available to study these monstrous storms.

However, recent advances in global lightning detection systems have allowed scientists to remotely measure the electrical “pulse” of hurricanes from thousands of kilometers away.

In a paper to appear on 6 April in Nature Geoscience, Prof. Colin Price or Tel Aviv University, together with Prof. Yoav Yair and Dr. Mustafa Asfur of The Open University of Israel, have discovered a surprising connection between lightning activity and hurricane intensity. They’ve also, as we’ve reported earlier, been able to use the “flash” to predict the flood.

The Israeli scientists studied the lightning activity in 58 intense hurricanes during the years 2005-2007, and found that 56 of these storms showed a significant correlation between hurricane intensity and lightning activity.

In addition, for more than 70% of the hurricanes, the lightning activity peaked before the peak winds in the hurricane, providing a possible precursor for the hurricane intensification.

The peak lightning activity generally appeared 1 day before the hurricane winds reached their maximum intensity. Today global lightning activity can be monitored in real time using only a few dozen ground stations, all connected and synchronized through the internet with GPS clocks.

One such station is located in Tel Aviv, and the real time images of global lightning are freely available at Since lightning activity can now be monitored continuously in hurricanes at any location around the globe, lightning data may contribute to better hurricane forecasts in the future. A good thing if we’ll need to escape from the devastation.

More on weather:
The Flash Before the Flood
Increasing Heat Waves in Middle East Signal Global Warming

[image credit jbindl]

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