Following Thunderstorms With Lightning Trackers

Storm Tracking

In another article I discussed Lightning Detectors - very useful in warning of nearby storms but not much help in providing information on storm speed, location and behaviour.

All the lightning detectors described there work on the principle that storm distance is related to signal strength, and intensity to the rate of strikes. None will tell you the direction of the storm, or where the lightning is landing.

This can be achieved by directional aerials and accurate determination of signal strength, which can be converted to distance to the strike. To be really useful, this information needs to be displayed on a map, which means a computer is necessary.

The leader in the field of lightning trackers is Boltek, with their StormTracker being a proven computer based lightning tracking system, working as a stand alone system, or enhanced by third party software such as Aninoquisi's Lightning/2000 or Astrogenic's NexStorm (there are those capitals again). The StormTracker system is basically a computer add on in the form of a card, linked to a directional aerial. Incoming data on lightning strikes up to 300 miles away(480km) are collected, processed, and displayed on a map centred on your location. All data is saved on hard disk and can be replayed later. Boltek's StormTracker Lightning Tracker Because of shielding in all but timber framed houses, the aerial may have to be located outside, and connected via cable.

The Boltek StormTracker won't leave you much change from $500.00, and you'll need to add maps of your area for another $69.00. But with this system you will have all the information you need right on the screen in front of you, and it can easily be linked with any public storm warning system if necessary. It will work well as is, but for moreoptions the software mentioned previously can often be foundfor less than $180.

(Ambient Weather have all the products mentioned here, while eBay often has Boltek equipment at good prices (if bids are kept under control).

But maybe you want portability. No problem - the next step up in Boltek lightning trackers is the LD-250.

The Boltek LD-250 is a detection and processing system which connects to desktop or laptop computers and, like the StormTracker, transfers calculated strike locations to an onscreen map. It can be programmed to sound an alarm related to either or both proximity or intensity, (strikes per minute) and data is saved for later analysis.

If you are a storm spotter or chaser, this is the bee's knees in remote tracking of storms. It can be connected to a laptop in your vehicle, and linked to a GPS system. Not only will you be able to see lightning strikes, but you will be able to relate your cars location and orientation to the storm.

You can expect to pay a little under $800 for the Boltek LD-250, although I've seen it for under $600, plus $69 for a map set (which will cover a radius of 300 miles or 480km). You'll probably make it back in fuel savings on your next few chasing trips, simply by being able to track your position, and the storm's, regardless of local visibility.

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Storm Tracking on the Internet

If you don't wish to add lightning trackers to your collection of weather monitoring equipment, you can still track lightning in the USA on the internet, although not very efficiently. Accuweather and Intellicast both have lightning strike maps derived from Vaisala - see next paragraph. The scale is very small, and they only give a general guide to lightning activity.

Slightly better, but still very general, is Vaisala's Lightning Strike Map. The data here is based on 100 sensors monitored by the US National Lightning Detection Network(NLDN). The information is processed to almost instantaneously give location, polarity and amplitude for each strike, plus a plot on the map. Unfortunately the free service is only updated every 30 minutes. Far more information is available as part of Vaisala's subscription service.

More recently, USPLN has joined the party. They provide an alternative to Vaisala which is very similar, but the free service is updated twice as often - every 15 minutes.

There is also a scattering of regional, free lightning trackers,plus a moderate number of private online trackers, althoughquality is variable and some are not always online.

The first group includes TV stations and a few power utilities.Florida is well served, being the most lightning-struck US state, and there are others in Grand Rapids Mi, Monroe Ga, San Luis Obispo Ca, Boise Id and Dardenne Prairie, Mo. The last oneis a good example of a Boltek StormTracker in use.

An Australian orchard at Mareeba in far north Queensland is also online, using Astrogenic's NexStorm software with a StormTracker.Check this out during the southern hemisphere's summer - this isAustralia's Cyclone (=Hurricane) Alley, and thing's can getpretty interesting. Remember time differences if you don't live in Australia.

Australia has it's fair share of thunderstorms, and they frequentlydisrupt power supplies. Many power utilities provide free online lightning trackers. Strikes are located by comparing directional andintensity data from three ground stations. They are worth a lookbecause they cover an area between the continent wide service ofVaisala and USPLN and the local areas handled by Boltek lightningtrackers. An example is the Country Energy Storm Tracker. but check time differences first - most thunderstorm activity is between early afternoon andlate evening, eastern Australian time.

No doubt free internet coverage will improve with more competitionand improving technology, but if you seriously want or need betterinformation, Boltek's products are well proven. For links to thebest prices I've seen, scroll back up towards the top.

You can find more information on lightning on the Lightning page, while reviews of the simpler Lightning Detectors include equipment most useful for general warnings of approaching storms.

And here's the place to go if you are looking for More Lightning Resources.

This link will take you back to the Top, or, when you're ready, here's how to return to the Home page.
But just before you move on...

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Last update 05/25/2011