Next generation lightning and cloud data highlight tornado-producing storms in Md.

Lightning data from D.C. lightning network show major flare-up of activity around two storms that produced tornadoes June 13: in Montgomery County and in southern Maryland (NOAA)

Lightning data from D.C. lightning network show major flare-up of activity around two storms that produced tornadoes June 13: in Montgomery County and in southern Maryland (NOAA)

Two long-track tornadoes tore through Maryland on June 13.  Doppler radar imagery revealed these storms were spinning and warnings were issued. But high resolution satellite imagery and lightning data also offered important clues that these storms were particularly vigorous.

NOAA’s GOES-14 satellite was placed in its “rapid refresh” mode, taking images of the storms every minute, rather than just the standard 15-minute frequency. Imagery at such tightly packed time intervals allowed forecasters to literally see the storms bubble up (see related animation).

At the same time, the Washington, D.C. Lightning Mapping Array (DCLMA) – a network of 10 lightning sensors – detected a sudden burst of lightning activity, another key indicator of intensifying storms.

Scott Rudlosky, a NOAA scientist, penned a blog post noting both the high-frequency cloud imagery and lightning data will be available for forecasters routinely when the next generation weather satellite, GOES-R, is launched. GOES-R will contain both an advanced imager and a lightning detection instrument.

Writes Rudlosky:

The [animation] below combines visible GOES imagery and DCLMA observations to illustrate an example product that could be provided to weather forecasters and broadcast meteorologists in the GOES-R era.  The tracks and locations of two tornados (red lines/circles) also are overlaid to highlight an important relationship between lightning activity and severe storms.  Recent studies have shown that rapidly increasing lightning flash rates (termed lightning jumps) often precede severe winds, hail, and tornados.  Lightning jumps are evident ~20 minutes prior to the each of the tornados, and frequent lightning flashes persist throughout the tornado durations.

GOES-R is scheduled to be launched in October, 2015. However, the satellite project may encounter launch delays cautions the Government Accountability Office.

Related: Can lightning help predict tornadoes? A D.C. area case may shed some light

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