It's summertime in Houston and with very few exceptions, this is the time of year for thunderstorms nearly every day. Some are very small and isolated while at other times, whole lines of storms rumble through the area. When they are larger, they can produce incredible thunder. I've had thunder roll me out of bed in the middle of the night, thinking I was having a heart attack; I've seen it strike telephone poles and blow up transformers.
Fortunately for those of us living here, we have one of the best lightning strike detectors in the country. The Lightning Mapping Array (LMA) system is the only one for a large metropolitan area like this, and it just got an upgrade courtesy of Richard Orville, atmospheric sciences professor at Texas A&M University.
Houston is actually considered one of the world hot spots for lightning strikes. Hey, add that to our glowing weather résumé!
Studies show about 1,800 thunderstorms pound the Earth at any given moment, resulting in about 50 lightning strikes every second.
Orville says Houston averages about 20 strikes per square mile, and receives about 1,700 strikes between June and July alone each year.
"You need two things for lightning to occur - heat and moisture, and Houston has plenty of both," he explains.
The strikes are recorded by sensors placed around the Houston area, which record and report data to researchers at Texas A&M, where they can pinpoint the exact location using some fancy-schmancy computer technology. Best yet, it can actually help warn people when lightning may strike.
"The LMA can give us an advance warning time of from 5 to 20 minutes ahead of time where cloud-to-ground lightning may strike next," Orville said in a release.
"When you consider all of the golf courses, public parks, stadiums, lakes and other outdoor sites where people tend to gather, it has the potential to save many lives."
The upgrades included solar power and wi-fi. The whole thing is funded through grants from the National Science Foundation. Considering that lightning kills more people every year than any other weather-related phenomena except flooding, it's a real advantage to have the system in our area.
And, since we're talking lightning on Friday, why not a little lightning-themed Dokken for your weekend?
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