When the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) launched its newest weather satellite back in November, the agency touted the next-generation lightning mapper—the first ever to orbit over a fixed point on the Earth—onboard.
Now we know why.
The agency, which forecasts weather and monitors the Earth’s climate, revealed the first Global Lightning Mapper imagery on March 6, showing what the satellite is capable of. In the video above, you can see each lightning flash from a large group of thunderstorms located near the Gulf of Mexico on Feb. 14, 2017.
The improved lightning data will help weather forecasters provide more advanced warnings of severe thunderstorms, including ones containing tornadoes.
“The mapper continually looks for lightning flashes in the Western Hemisphere, so forecasters know when a storm is forming, intensifying and becoming more dangerous,” NOAA said in a press release. Scientists have found that sudden jumps in lightning activity can indicate a storm is set to produce severe weather, from large hail and damaging winds to destructive tornadoes.
“When combined with radar and other satellite data, GLM data may help forecasters anticipate severe weather and issue flood and flash flood warnings sooner,” the agency said. “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.”
The satellite is also capable of tracking lightning over the oceans, which traditional methods have had a hard time doing. Current lightning detection networks in place across many land areas only detect cloud-to-ground lightning, but the new mapper also shows in-cloud lightning, which is more frequent and often precedes cloud-to-ground strikes.
Plus, it looks pretty cool.
The GOES-16 weather satellite is scheduled to be fully operational later this year.