SEATTLE - September 5, 2013, saw 6,000 recorded cloud to ground lightning strikes, just in Western Washington. It was one of the highest numbers recorded in part of the world that is not known for lightning frequent.
Late last summer was warm and more humid than normal, according to Washington state climatologist Nick Bond. And we might expect more of the same as El Nino and latent effects from early last winter could be setting us up for another warm and humid late summer and more lighting.
Robert Holzworth is a University of Washington professor of earth and space science and an adjunct professor of physics. He also runs the World Wide Lightning Location Network (WWLLN),which provides real time lighting data to subscribers. For example, that lighting data can be used to locate lighting strikes to launch a response by wildland firefighters. A network of 80 sensors around the world can pick up very low frequency radio waves emitted by lighting and, through triangulation of multiple sensors, locate the strike or “stroke” as scientists call them.
But Holzworth is working with the university’s meteorologists to come up with a way to predict the relative location of lighting more accurately within storms.
“The prediction of lighting within 10 kilometers of another lighting stroke is relatively high. On a short time scale that’s a good way to predict. But that’s like 10 minutes, 20 minutes,” said Holzworth.
Meanwhile, British scientists from the University of Reading say they have found a correlation between solar winds, increased activity from the sun and the general likelihood of increased lighting on Earth. The research was focused on strikes recorded in northern Europe.
Professor Holzworth is a bit skeptical of the European focused study, saying it needs to be carried out on a more global basis.
“That’s not to say there isn’t something in there that’s driving it, but I think we need to refine the analysis a little bit better,” said Holzworth.