Pantex’s lightning mapping array system to help detect pre-strike electrical activity

Local News

AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — Lightning is common on the High Plains during storms and Pantex has recently designed a way to detect cloud-to-cloud or inter-cloud strikes.

David Hattz, manager of the Pantex Electromagnetics Group said the lightning mapping array system consists of solar-powered sensors that are designed to detect pre-strike electrical activity.

Hattz said most lightning tools detect the strike after it has already happened, but the array can detect strikes up to an hour before they occur.

“We studied one storm and we saw sources, which are discharges in the cloud an hour before the first cloud to ground strike. Other storms form very rapidly and we get less amount of notification, but it just depends on the cloud,” said Hattz.

Hattz said the system has the ability to trace out where the strike occurs from within the cloud all the way to within a couple of thousand feet from the ground with post-processing.

He added that this system also opens up great research possibilities and he said this is going to push the boundaries when it comes to predicting severe weather.

Something Chief Meteorologist John Harris said is an extra way to keep people safe during severe weather season.

“Just imagine how many people we can alert so they can get out of harm’s way if storms are coming into some area. Basically, it’s another tool that we have available to us to get the warning out quicker so people can protect themselves from thunderstorms and lightning,” said Harris.

Pantex currently has nine sensors in the field, with the latest one being installed Monday, the 14th and they are looking to expand to 12 sensors by the end of June.

Hattz said the system started as a research and development project to see if the fielded system would provide valuable meteorological information. He said once they got them in the field, he said they found out that they were great tools.

“Once we got them into the field and studied them for a few years, we really thought they were a great network,” said Hattz.

Hattz said this array system is the only one on the High Plains. He said that the closest one to us is Texas Tech in Lubbock.

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