Lightning Chasers Hope to Unravel Mystery at Cape Canaveral and Tornado Alley

Lightning Chasers Hope to Unravel Mystery at Cape Canaveral and Tornado Alley

Christiaan Patterson

Lightning strikes the earth on average 100 times per second which adds up to a mind boggling 8,640,000 zaps every day! For researchers across the nation, this number helps provide frequent opportunity for further study. These scientists have been given the nickname of Lightning Chasers.

Everything in life requires a balance, even the earth. Therefore, lightning is the natural mechanism for energy particles to balance between earth and the atmosphere. This incredible weather phenomenon has sparked some ingenious ideas for detecting and photographing from the nation’s most inquisitive meteorologists.

Tom Marshall, a professor of meteorology at the University of Mississippi, hopes to one day detect where a cloud has the most potent energy. By finding that spot, he should be able to predict exactly where a lightning bolt will strike and hopefully avoid my head!

In October of 2009, NASA revealed a new antenna capable of aiding in lightning detection and create more successful launches of space shuttles in Cape Canaveral. Currently, lightning in the vicinity of the launch pad means a “no-go” for astronauts and launch tower.

In an effort to unravel the mystery of lightning, NASA uses a system called Cloud to Ground Lightning Surveillance System or CGLSS. Every strike that is recorded nationwide are fed into the National Lightning Detection Network based in Tucson, Ariz.

The CGLSS system works by installing sensors that detect the polarity in the atmosphere with antenna’s set in every direction to find where the lightning came from.

Placing the main database in Arizona was a smart idea since, outside the monsoonal season, has the least amount of thunderstorms per year compared to other states. Unfortunately for a storm nut like me, everything west of the Rockies averages less than 10 thunderstorms a year according to NOAA.

Outside of Florida, which is the #1 state for most strikes at about 12 strikes per square mile, there lies other researchers who are using photography to solve the mystery.

Tim Samaras, an engineer and director of TWISTEX featured on Discovery channels Stormchasers, has been fascinated with weather since he first saw a tornado in the backyard at age nine. He claims that chasing storms is strictly for research rather than an adrenaline rush.

Having chased a relatively large amount of thunderstorms, if you don’t get an adrenaline rush, something is wrong!

Samaras’s engineering skills came in handy when he created a camera that takes 10,000 frames per second! With the help of his teammates, TWISTEX was able to capture a lightning bolt in several different stages on its way to the ground.

It was discovered that a lightning bolt does not simply come down in one continues bolt but rather branches out into multiple tentacles that race toward the earth. The finding has led to his latest creation of a camera that shoots over one million frames per second and advancing the understanding of lightning study!

All of these efforts by scientists across the country and around the world are aiming to reduce the amount of people killed every year by lightning. In the United States from 1959-2003, 3,696 people were killed from being struck and it kills more than both hurricanes and tornadoes. I’m ecstatic that I haven’t become one of those statistics, yet.

Being a storm chaser, these are risks known and that are taken in an effort to advance the understanding of meteorology. However, knowing the risks won’t keep me from chasing these storms as I have been doing for eleven years.

I’m practically clawing at the walls in anticipation for the day I move to Norman, Oklahoma to FINALLY be able to fulfill the ONLY thing that I live for: chasing extreme weather!

You Tube Video of lightning from camera:

<iframe title=”YouTube video player” width=”480″ height=”390″ src=”” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>