The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has a new piece of hardware cruising around the Earth at an altitude of 22,300 miles, and it’s delivering a really fantastic glimpse of violent thunderstorms from its birds-eye view. In its newest video showcase for the public, the satellite provides a hypnotic stream of bright bolts lighting up the atmosphere, and could help forecasters predict the path and behavior of dangerous storms.
The satellite — which goes by the name GOES-16 — utilizes an optical detector called the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) to capture and transmit the lightning strike data. It’s constantly trained on the Western Hemisphere, ever searching for the faint glimpses of lightning strikes in an effort to give weather experts a jump start at predicting where strong storms will form and where they’ll go next.
As you can see in the video — showing a rolling storm on the Texas coast — the GLM is extremely sensitive, and can map every strike with ease. NOAA describes the system thusly:
During heavy rain, GLM data will show when thunderstorms are stalled or if they are gathering strength. When combined with radar and other satellite data, GLM data may help forecasters anticipate severe weather and issue flood and flash flood warnings sooner. 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.
Additionally, the satellite can spot lightning zaps in the clouds, well in advance of the cloud-to-ground strikes that cause the most damage. This should help expedite weather alerts and increase the warning times for people in the paths of developing storms.