Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

NASA Scientist: Lightning Studies May Provide Earlier Tornado Alerts

Date:
April 26, 2000
Source:
NASA Marshall Space Flight Center
Summary:
On May 3, 1999, more than 50 tornadoes cut a killer swath across the Great Plains, taking more than 40 lives. One year later, NASA researcher Steve Goodman demonstrates how another foul-weather hazard -- lightning -- could be the key to predicting such devastating storms.

It's been a year almost to the day, but NASA researcher Dr. Steve Goodman still hasn't forgotten May 3, 1999.

On that date, more than 50 tornadoes cut a killer swath across the Great Plains of Kansas and Oklahoma. Property damage was estimated at $1.2 billion. More than 40 people died.

In hope of avoiding another May 3, 1999, Goodman and other scientists at the Global Hydrology and Climate Center, managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., are studying new methods of predicting severe storms.

And they believe another dangerous element of severe weather may be the key.

Using a combination of ground and space-based weather monitoring equipment, Goodman and colleagues at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Washington, D.C., and at MIT Lincoln Laboratories in Lexington, Mass., have documented nearly a dozen cases in which lightning rates increased dramatically as tornadic storms developed.

"Our studies show a very big spike in the lightning's flash rate prior to formation of a tornado," Goodman says. "It's an early clue for weather forecasters to take a more detailed look at other storm characteristics with radar. And perhaps a chance for them to get warnings out earlier, saving more lives."

Goodman's team will present its research to scientists, meteorologists and emergency management officials from around the country at the "National Symposium on the Great Plains Tornado Outbreak of 3 May 1999," which opens April 30 at the Westin Hotel and Resort in Oklahoma City.

Spotting the telltale lightning flashes isn't as easy as keeping an eye on the sky from your front porch. According to Goodman, the type of lightning NASA is researching occurs within clouds, invisible to the naked eye by day. To properly monitor this type of lightning takes special equipment like NASA's Lightning Imaging Sensor, an instrument flying aboard the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite launched in 1997. The sensor tracks worldwide lightning strikes and their relationship to storm centers.

Theories linking in-cloud lightning and tornadic storms have been debated for many years, according to Goodman. For decades, meteorologists and scientists pondered the connection. "But they lacked the ability to properly document and map in-cloud lightning," he says. "With the technological advances we've made in recent years, we can see what they couldn't."

Goodman is realistic about the work that remains ahead. "We don't have enough data yet to say how often the high flash rate precedes tornado formation," Goodman says. "But looking at this lightning signature can help pinpoint storms that are likely candidates, and that can make a big difference."

That difference would provide earlier warnings to increase citizens' chance of reaching shelter, and would likely reduce the number of false alarms that go out every year.

"Lead time for tornado warnings is better than it's ever been," Goodman says. "It's gone from eight to 12 minutes nationally. But the false-alarm rate hasn't changed. Only 30 percent of rotating storms ever make a tornado. That leads to a lot of false alarms lulling the public into ignoring the threat."

"It's a question of accuracy," he adds. "The more accurate we are, the more people take the proper response. That's what this research is all about."

Goodman's presentation, "May 3 Tornadic Supercells Viewed from Space During an Overpass of the NASA TRMM Observatory," will be May 1 at 4:10 p.m. CDT. The Great Plains Symposium runs through Wednesday, May 3 -- the anniversary of last year's devastating tornado outbreak.

The Global Hydrology and Climate Center is a joint venture between government and academia to study the global water cycle and its effect on Earth's climate. Funded by NASA and its academic partners and jointly operated by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., and the University of Alabama in Huntsville, the Center conducts research in a number of critical areas. Satellite tracking of hurricanes promises to improve global severe-weather forecasting capabilities; research into lightning activity is providing new insight on tornado formation; and NASA remote sensing technologies explore new ways to improve the health of our cities, aid farm productivity and identify outbreaks of disease.

-- 30 --


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. "NASA Scientist: Lightning Studies May Provide Earlier Tornado Alerts." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 April 2000. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/04/000425141255.htm>.
NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. (2000, April 26). NASA Scientist: Lightning Studies May Provide Earlier Tornado Alerts. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/04/000425141255.htm
NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. "NASA Scientist: Lightning Studies May Provide Earlier Tornado Alerts." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/04/000425141255.htm (accessed September 20, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Wildfires in CA Burn Forest Asunder

Raw: Wildfires in CA Burn Forest Asunder

AP (Sep. 18, 2014) An out-of-control Northern California wildfire has nearly 2,800 people from their homes as it continues to grow, authorities said Thursday. Authorities said a man has been arrested on suspicion of arson for starting the fire on Saturday. (Sept. 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Elephant Undergoes Surgery in Tbilisi Zoo

Raw: Elephant Undergoes Surgery in Tbilisi Zoo

AP (Sep. 18, 2014) Grand the elephant has successfully undergone surgery to remove a portion of infected tusk at Tbilisi Zoo in Georgia. British veterinary surgeons used an electric drill to extract the infected piece. (Sept. 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Scientists Examine Colossal Squid

Raw: Scientists Examine Colossal Squid

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) Squid experts in New Zealand thawed and examined an unusual catch on Tuesday: a colossal squid. It was captured in Antarctica's remote Ross Sea in December last year and has been frozen for eight months. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Man Floats for 31 Hours in Gulf Waters

Man Floats for 31 Hours in Gulf Waters

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) A Texas man is lucky to be alive after he and three others floated for more than a day in the Gulf of Mexico when their boat sank during a fishing trip. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins