New capabilities on NOAA satellite help predict lightning strikes


Flashy first images arrive from NOAA’s GOES-16 lightning mapper

Detecting and predicting lightning just got a lot easier. The first images from a new instrument onboard NOAA’s GOES-16 satellite are giving NOAA National Weather Service forecasters richer information about lightning that will help them alert the public to dangerous weather.

This is one hour of GOES-16’s Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) lightning data from Feb. 14, when GLM acquired 1.8 million images of the Earth. It is displayed over GOES-16 ABI full disk Band 2 imagery. Brighter colors indicate more lightning energy was recorded; color bar units are the calculated kilowatt-hours of total optical emissions from lightning. The brightest storm system is located over the Gulf Coast of Texas, the same storm system in the accompanying video. This is preliminary, non-operational data. Credits: NOAA/NASA

The first lightning detector in a geostationary orbit, the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM), is transmitting data never before available to forecasters. The mapper continually looks for lightning flashes in the Western Hemisphere, so forecasters know when a storm is forming, intensifying and becoming more dangerous. Rapid increases of lightning are a signal that a storm is strengthening quickly and could produce severe weather.

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.

Accurate tracking of lightning and thunderstorms over the oceans, too distant for land-based radar and sometimes difficult to see with satellites, will support safe navigation for aviators and mariners.

The new mapper also detects in-cloud lightning, which often occurs five to 10 minutes or more before potentially deadly cloud-to-ground strikes. This means more precious time for forecasters to alert those involved in outdoor activities of the developing threat.

NASA successfully launched GOES-R at 6:42 p.m. EST on November 19, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and it was renamed GOES-16 when it achieved orbit. GOES-16 is now observing the planet from an equatorial view approximately 22,300 miles above the surface of the Earth.

NOAA’s satellites are the backbone of its life-saving weather forecasts. GOES-16 will build upon and extend the more than 40-year legacy of satellite observations from NOAA that the American public has come to rely upon.

Learn more about GOES-16 and all its exciting possibilities for weather forecasting improvements by visiting the GOES-16 website.

For more information about GOES-16, visit: or


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51 thoughts on “New capabilities on NOAA satellite help predict lightning strikes

      • Simple. There is a year left in final calibration. On top of that is the huge cost of creating and maintaining data sets. Since this bird will help climate science it’s probably not going to survive cuts. Its sunk cost.

      • Steven, if you read the information provided, NOAA will operate the satellite not NASA.
        “The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
        (NOAA) operates GOES. The National Aeronautics and Space
        Administration (NASA) builds and launches them. “

    • Maybe if they did not spend so much effort manipulating data , Funding over 100 failed computer models, and funding so many other useless global warming studies we could cut the budget and still fund real valuable science . Surely we cannot afford to fund $20+ billion every year for climate change along with other inefficient government programs, doubling the debt to $20 trillion in 8 years while killing the economy with renewable energy. It’s not sustainable.

    • Once the new lightning fast satellite records a lightning strike, it is far too late to inform the people in that location that they are about to be struck by lightning.

      The general idea behind forecasting is to warn people of something imminent, that hasn’t happened yet.

      After the event has happened, we know about it, so a warning would be superfluous.


      • GISS/NASA is being re-focused on remote sensing and data delivery and getting out of the data processing and analysis ‘business’. The raw data will still be there and available in a more open and transparent manner for others to process and analyze, as it should be. Remember, repeatable is crucial and without open access to raw data, this is impossible.

      • Who cares if NASA’s budget for earth sciences is cut? They’re supposed to be doing launches and other aeronautical research. NOAA is responsible for weather and environment, and this being environment (the E in GOES) it is appropriate NOAA operates it.

      • I have no problems with NOAA sending weather instruments up on a NASA satellite. But I do have duplication of effort concerns with both agencies studying the data.

    • NASA has no means to launch satellites. With the retirement of the Shuttle, it has no orbital launch capability at all. All NASA missions are being launched by Russian, French, and U.S. commercial carriers. NASA is (and should be) out of that business. Unfortunately, they are working on a heavy-lift rocket called SLS (Space Launch System, or more commonly Senate Launch System after the pork-barrel Senators pushing it), something so expensive that the NASA budget for it will only permit a launch every other year. And because SLS eats up so much of the budget, it will be impossible to develop a payload big enough to justify its existence.

    • No, where I live, most of the rain is in thunderstorms (suburban Austin TX). Better severe weather warnings are valuable here.

    • Not really. You would need lots of sensors in order to monitor the entire world from ground based sensors.
      It’s the same problem we have with temperature readings.

      • We COULD save a lot of money by having just two weather stations in the US and homogenize. One in SF and one in Bangor, Maine. That way the weather reports for Dallas will always exactly match the forecasts for Dallas (cold and foggy).

      • Depending on the sensor and orbit satellite data is also interpolated. Even in the back end of the pixel processing there is interpolation.

        jeez do you guys ever read the documentation

      • Steve yes, but are they interpolating data from 2000km apart or 2km? One can argue analog to digital music interpolates also but at a certain size it no longer matters as the ear can hear no difference at which point calling it interpolated is just a distinction without a difference.

      • MarkW “You would need lots of sensors in order to monitor the entire world from ground based sensors.”

        Already done. See the volunteer-based website linked further below.

        You don’t know the range that LW (long wave) frequencies yield (and how could you? Most ppl are not RF/radio engineers) over land and even more over sea water … these global lightning detectors use LW frequencies that FAR exceed the distances that RADAR can detect precipitation.

  1. Money well spent to improve weather forecasting. We coild afford a few more if we shut down all the hopelessly useless climate modeling.

    • Because of Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy the people with their hands on the EPA’s levers of power will be craven bureaucrats, not true believers. They will do anything and say anything that keeps their hands on those levers.

      Expect to hear more stories about how NOAA and NASA are doing useful things and a lot fewer stories about how they are saving the world for our great grandchildren.

      Also expect to hear the true believers howling in impotent rage.

      • If the climate information actually makes any difference to a weather forecast over a couple of days then proving global warming would have been a trivial exercise by simply predicting weather with and without the effect of CO2 in the forecast model.

        Clearly it ain’t so and your comment is a classic switch and bait. Including the CO2 stuff in a weather forecast model is like putting stripes on a car and claiming it goes faster. The weather forecast does not depend in any way on the CO2 climate model.

        What matters to a weather forecast is of course global circulation, but that is not a climate model per se either. Or were you trying to conflate GCM = GCM where GCM could be an acronym for global climate model or for general circulation model?

        As usual your comment is a at best a misdirect, of course if you were doing it deliberately it would be downright dishonest. Impossible to tell which in a blog post of course, but neither option is particularly appealing or reflects well on yourself.

      • “There is almost zero overlap between weather forecasting and climate forecasting.”

        Wrong. Read more. Comment less.

        “Model Description
        HadGEM2-ES is a coupled Earth System Model that was used by the Met Office Hadley Centre for the CMIP5 centennial simulations. HadGEM2 is a configuration of the Met Office Unified Model (UM) developed from UM version 6.6. HadGEM2-ES was the first Met Office Hadley Centre model to include Earth system components as standard. The Unified Model is used by a number of institutions around the world both for operational weather forecasting and for climate research. The HadGEM2-ES climate model comprises an atmospheric GCM at N96 and L38 horizontal and vertical resolution, and an ocean GCM with a 1-degree horizontal resolution (increasing to 1/3 degree at the equator) and 40 vertical levels. Earth system components included are the terrestrial and ocean carbon cycle and tropospheric chemistry. Terrestrial vegetation and carbon are represented by the dynamic global vegetation model, TRIFFID, which simulates the coverage and carbon balance of 5 vegetation types (broadleaf tree, needleleaf tree, C3 grass, C4 grass and shrub). Ocean biology and carbonate chemistry are represented by diat-HadOCC which includes limitation of plankton growth by macro- and micro-nutrients, and also simulates emissions of DMS to the atmosphere.

        The Met Office develops and uses the Unified Model atmospheric model for a seamless range of applications from short-range numerical weather prediction to seasonal, decadal and centennial climate prediction. Longer range prediction is coupled with the NEMO ocean model, and Earth System Models are currently being developed.”

      • “If the climate information actually makes any difference to a weather forecast over a couple of days then proving global warming would have been a trivial exercise by simply predicting weather with and without the effect of CO2 in the forecast model.”

        You realize of course that All forecast models have a radiative transfer model that captures the effects of C02.

        “The radiation scheme performs computations of the short-wave and long-wave radiative fluxes using the predicted values of temperature, humidity, cloud, and monthly-mean climatologies for aerosols and the main trace gases (CO2, O3, CH4, N2O, CFCl3 and CF2Cl2). The radiation code is based on the Rapid Radiation Transfer Model (RRTM, Mlawer et al. 1997; Iacono et al. 2008). Cloud-radiation interactions are taken into account in detail by using the values of cloud fraction and liquid, ice and snow water contents from the cloud scheme using the McICA (Monte Carlo Independent Column Approximation) method (McRad, Morcrette et al. 2008). The solution of the radiative transfer equations to obtain the fluxes is computationally very expensive, so depending on the model configuration, full radiation calculations are performed on a reduced (coarser) radiation grid and/or on a reduced time frequency. The results are then interpolated back to the original grid. However, the short-wave fluxes are updated at every grid point and timestep using values of the solar zenith angle.”

      • Quite frankly Mosher your ability to provide an answer to a question that was not asked knows no bounds!

        The point was not “do these weather forecast models include any climate change physics”. No-one challenged that statement. We all know that they do, even rather famously the UK Met Office one.

        What we pointed out is that including CO2 radiative physics does not have any measurable effect on the quality of weather forecasting. The point that you entirely avoided.

        And by corollary, if the inclusion of CO2 radiative physics made any measurable difference to a weather forecast then proving CO2 global warming would be pretty trivial. The reality is CO2 radiative physics has no measurable effect on weather forecasts. Shame that you can’t admit it, or provide compelling evidence that it actually makes any difference.

        So maybe you can explain why you keep repeating the bleedin’ obvious whilst ignoring the point?

  2. Oh she, he it!

    Now we will be bombarded with ‘warnings’ of DEADLY LIGHTNING STRIKES LIKELY at specific locations via the alarmist addicted media. We will be mombarded with LIGHTNING ALERT advertisements and then cut to a special LIGHTNING STRIKE RESPONSE CONTROL CENTRE with a permanent media presence and the usual lightning response coordinator and media communicators passing the mike to each other and on and on and on…

    Fake news will be there for therapeutic purposes I suppose.

    • “mombarded” was a typo but it really fits in a ‘nanny state’ kinda way. Must have been Gaia guiding my fingers.

  3. I have some doubts that this lightening detection capability will provide real benefit. It is cool though!

    • Agreed. Observation data could be quite valuable. Easier to sell ‘alert the public to dangerous weather.’

    • Two benefits, both mentioned in the article.
      A big increase in lightning often precedes a big increase in storm intensity. This could be measured from the ground, provided you have instrumentation in the right place.
      It is also useful in measuring storms out over the ocean where there is a present no measuring capability.
      This is useful to both shipping and aviation.

  4. According to current theory the descending stroke decides only a few hundred meters from the ground where exactly so strike.

  5. At our golf course we use Boltek and Strike Alert units that Anthony sells to watch out for lightning. We also go to this site that is comprised of members who watch for lightning using a detector that is common to the group. Information on lightning strikes are fed through the internet and a formula is used to triangulate where the strikes are and are shown in almost real time on a coll map.

    There are many expensive lightning detectors that are also available with some of the systems costing up to 25k Canadian. Most are quite good but some are prone to false positives. This might not sound too bad but once you’ve blown the horn to bring in golfers on a busy day and there is no lightning not much chance they will come in a second time. We’ve only had one lightning incident in the last 30 years and the group were already walking in. A close hit blew a player’s golf spikes off(metal spikes not used anymore) and fried his socks. Golfer ok but was dizzy for a while.

    I think if the new satellite offered much improved forecasting of lightning it would be very popular. Unfortunately many of these systems due to legal liability say not to depend on them solely.

  6. They showed this GOES-16 satellite image last night on my local tv channel and you could clearly see fires burning on the ground out in western Oklahoma and Kansas. Pretty good definition!

      • The pictures are amazing when you consider that they were taken from an altitude of around 22,000 miles, and represent only a small section of the full disc image.
        Even more impressive is the fact that the satellite has no green photo-receptors, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at the full-color pictures. That’s the power of green modeling. You’ll have to ask Mosher how it works, coz he read the manual. ;) All I know is that they get some green reference data from Himawari on the other side of the planet – and the model works well.

  7. Help alert on lightning?
    Is the purpose to keep peoble alarmed, because you can never know where a lightning will happen, like you can never predict where a tornado will appear.
    Look at the sky, listen to the rumble and you know it could happen, but no one knows where.
    Could you sue them if they not warned you before you were hit?

  8. I’m surprised that they don’t demand the use of ground based observations…

    Maybe satellite based information is back in vogue?

  9. I saw the late February thunder storm over the western end of Lake Erie. Most of the lightning flashes were bolt lightning along with some branch lightning.

    Lightning struck an Ohio wind turbine during this storm and took off one of turbine’s blades.

    Those who live in lightning prone areas appreciate this additional weather information.

  10. Early warnings used to be the responsibility of the individual to know their local weather patterns and to determine if those dark clouds over there were coming over here. But sucking on the guvmnt binkie has apparently removed common sense from us.

  11. Soooo many little things marginally wrong with the OP (excerpts from a press release maybe?) …

    For instance, are y’all aware of the open source lightning detector network that covers the world?

    Project –
    Map –

    AND recall from basic meteorology: The cloud must develop to a certain vertical extent [above the freeze line] before lightning is produced, so generally weather radar will indicate a developing storm before a lightning detector does. It is not always clear [or apparent] from early returns if a shower cloud will develop into a thunderstorm ht wiki

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