Lightning forecasts: Time is of the essence

Lightning forecasts: Time is of the essence

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - Even though we are all aware of the dangers of summertime lightning storms, the reality is that the odds of being struck when the forecast calls for a 20 percent chance of storms aren't enough for us to cancel our outdoor plans. So we go about our activities and keep an ear and eye to the sky.

MORE: Staying safe from lightning
UAH Professor Dr. John Mecikalski explains that time is always a factor when it comes to storms and the dangerous lightning they may contain.

"There is a time delay between when a cloud starts to grow really fast; there's a time it takes for the precipitation processes in the clouds to begin, and there's even a little more time, of course, before the precipitation falls to the ground," said Dr. Mecikalski. "And there would still be added time before enough charge built up in the cloud to produce lightning."
This time delay and the combination of today's technology and research and development going on in our own backyards means that you and your family could soon be getting alerted to impended rainfall and dangerous lightning well ahead of a storm.

SATcast is fully operational, and part of UAH's focus on "Nowcasting" – or forecasting within a 1-2 hour window. It is technology that could one day make its way to every weather forecast you see.

Although future updates are likely, using satellite variables such as cloud types and properties, you are able to see the probably of rain and storm initiation for each cloud.

When storms grow explosively, there might be a 15 minute lead time. If you see growing cumulus clouds, 15 minutes later, it is going to rain. In most cases, there is a 30 minute - and often times, an hour - lead time when it starts to rain. In terms of lightning, there is solidly a 50-55 minute lead time.
The WAFF Weather App is a great tool for lightning detection. It will push an alert to your smartphone if lightning is detected within a 5 mile radius of your current location. Just text the word APPS to 4-48-48 for information on how to download.

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