Zap Map: Satellite tracks lightning for better heads up

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It works by looking for flashes anywhere in the Western Hemisphere, "so forecasters know when a storm is forming, intensifying, and becoming more risky", explains NOAA.

NASA released video and pictures Monday taken by GOES-16 using its Geostationary Lightning Mapper instrument showing lightning over southeast Texas recorded on February 14. The storm was strong enough to trigger tornadoes.

Scientists showed images from a new space weather tool today that will make tracking and evaluating lightning easier. The brightest storm was located over the Gulf Coast of Texas. It is displayed over GOES-16 ABI.

The improved lightning data will help weather forecasters provide more advanced warnings of severe thunderstorms, including ones containing tornadoes.

Constantly watching for lightning in the Western Hemisphere, the GLM takes hundreds of images each second.

A rapid increase in lightning is often a good indicator that a storm is intensifying and could produce risky weather, according to NASA.

GOES 16, previously known as GOES-R, was launched at approximately 23:42 UTC on November 19, 2016 from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, US.

Unlike traditional time-lapse animations that appear jerky because the images are presented more quickly than they were gathered, this video is a slower version of what the satellite sees, brought down from the satellite's 500 frames per second to a more human 25 frames per second.

NOAA's satellites are the backbone of its life-saving weather forecasts. A still image, also released on Monday, collects one hour of GLM lightning data shown over a gray-scale picture of Earth.

In dry areas, especially in the western United States, information from the instrument will help forecasters, and ultimately firefighters, identify areas prone to wildfires sparked by lightning, American space agency NASA reported. It will also capture lightning information for areas where that data is sparse, including over oceans, NOAA says. This means more precious time for forecasters to alert those involved in outdoor activities of the developing threat.

According to NASA, this type of lightning occurs five to 10 minutes before cloud-to-ground strikes.