VAISALA’S U.S. NATIONAL LIGHTNING DETECTION NETWORK TURNS 40
Vaisala Xweather celebrates four decades of building the world’s most advanced lightning detection network.
Vaisala’s U.S. National Lightning Detection Network (NLDN), the most accurate, reliable, and scientifically validated lightning detection network in the country, turns 40 years old on June 1, 2023. The lightning data provided by the NLDN has had a profound impact on American society. With its highly localized insights, meteorologists have been able to improve their forecasts of dangerous thunderstorms, and energy and infrastructure companies have been able to better protect critical power, utility, and communications systems. The data has also allowed airline pilots to take their passengers safely to the skies.
Personal safety has naturally been a key part of the development of the detection network. During the time that the NLDN has been operating, lightning-related deaths or injuries have dropped significantly: From 1983 to 1998, there were on average 69 deaths per year from lightning in the United States. For the period 2007 through 2022, that number had declined to 24, a decrease of almost 70 percent.
The societal and economic impact of the NLDN has also been significant. The electrical grid is prone to outages from overvoltage caused by lightning strikes. Aviation is also a strongly affected industry, with safety regulations requiring operations at airports to stop during thunderstorms. The NLDN provides early warning and shows when it is safe to return to work, significantly reducing downtime and supply chain disruptions caused by lightning.
The NLDN detected its first cloud-to-ground lightning strike on June 1, 1983, at 00:04:47 UTC, about three miles northwest of New Milford, Pennsylvania. In 1989, the NLDN became the first lightning detection network to reach complete coverage of the continental United States. The network has been under constant development and can now measure lightning down to an accuracy of 100 meters anywhere in the continental United States.
In 2022, the NLDN detected nearly 200 million lightning events in the United States. The journey from the very first detected lightning to the extremes of 2022 has required constant scientific discovery and inter-organizational collaboration to improve U.S. lightning safety. The latest advancement added to the NLDN in 2021 is Strike Damage Potential, which identifies unique strike points on the ground and helps to assess the potential damage caused by a lightning flash.
As the effects of climate change become increasingly volatile, Vaisala Xweather experts predict we will see increasing variability in thunderstorm trends in the US and across the globe.