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Technological advancements to help meteorologists forecast lightning

Updated: Mar. 4, 2020 at 9:30 PM CST
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CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (KFVS) - As spring approaches, people spend more time outside but lightning can quickly disrupt those plans.

New technology at the National Weather Service could eventually give people a better idea of when and where lightning will strike.

Pat Spoden with the National Weather Service said technological advancements allow meteorologists the ability to analyze lightning more in-depth than ever before.

“With the new satellites that are up there, one of those has a new global lightning mapper on it," Spoden said. "Basically we can see the lightning develop in the clouds and the idea is hopefully someday, and I don’t know when, you know we’re starting to get an idea through research finding out how lightning occurs and when.”

The issue right now is that there is no way to alert people in advance that lightning could strike in their vicinity.

This is a concern for people like Clark Parrott, who umpires high school baseball games in his free time.

“One of the things we constantly keep an eye on especially in the spring is toward the sky,” Parrott said.

The Missouri State High School Athletic Association has a policy in place that if you hear thunder you must get off the field for at least 30 minutes.

As an umpire, it’s his job to make the call whether to delay or even cancel a game due to lightning.

“There are all kinds of metal in the air kids with aluminum bats, that sort of thing,” Parrott said. “There’s all kinds of metal around. It’s very important because participant safety is the number one factor that we’re going after.”

While models and awareness are improving, the National Weather Service reports there is an average of 27 deaths and 243 injuries per year due to lightning.

Currently, meteorologists can only analyze lighting mainly after it strikes the ground.

The goal with this new technology is to create a lead time, up to a few minutes, to warn those close to a storm.

The big question is when will meteorologists be able to do this?

“Even with this new information we are just learning, the research really is just beginning," Spoden said. "We have seen some of this and we are excited about what can happen in the future, but it’s going to take a while to get this really to go.”

As technological advancements continue to grow and help forecasters, there is still one main message that Spoden wants everyone to remember.

“When you hear it, go inside," Spoden said. "I’ve seen people where you know it’s thundering, and lightning and they don’t go inside until it starts raining. And then when the rain ends, they come outside and it’s still thundering and lightning. It’s like…that’s not good enough. Once you hear thunder you need to go inside. When thunder roars, go indoors.”

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