5 Best Lightning Detection Networks Ranked: The Ultimate Guide

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5 Best Lightning Detection Networks Ranked: The Ultimate Guide

Published
May 30, 2024
Written by
Saba Arif

Did you know that lightning can reach a staggering 54,000°Ffive times hotter than the surface of the sun—and strike with a speed 30,000 times faster than a bullet? According to the National Lightning Strike Database, there are over 40 million lightning strikes annually in the United States. That’s why following lightning safety protocol is so critical, and that’s where lightning detection networks come in. But with so many lightning detection networks around, how do you choose the best? Don’t worry; we’ve got you covered.

Here’s our breakdown of the top 5 lightning detection networks, ranked from least to most reliable. We’ll also dive deep into the different types of networks so you can make an informed decision about your lightning safety protocol.

What is a Lightning Detection Network?

Before we can get to the best lightning detection systems, we need to understand what they are and how they work. To put it simply, a lightning detector is a device that tracks the lightning by measuring the electromagnetic pulse emitted by thunderstorms. 

It does a lot more than detect lightning, though. Depending on the type of device, a lightning strike detector can calculate the distance and direction of lightning, its severity, and the characteristics of the lightning itself.

A lightning detection network is a cluster of these lightning detectors strategically placed across a geographic location. Lightning detection sensors pick up these electromagnetic signals produced by lightning and estimate the location and speed of the lightning bolt based on the time it takes for the frequency signal to reach the various antenna stations.

What are the Types of Lightning Detection Networks?

Lightning detection devices aren’t a new concept, dating back to Benjamin Franklin’s invention of the lightning rod in the mid-1700s. Over the years, they have advanced significantly in capability and complexity.

Newer lightning alert systems can show the exact location where lightning strikes and the type of lightning in real time. Using a professional lightning detection network is crucial for safeguarding lives and property. The three primary types of modern lightning detection networks are:

Ground-Based Lightning Detection Networks

Ground-based lightning detection systems work by triangulating the location of the lightning strike and excel at pinpointing cloud-to-ground lightning strikes (the most dangerous type) in real time. Most modern meteorological services, like the National Weather Service, use this method for lightning detection. 

Mobile Systems

These portable lightning detectors are mainly for personal use and are generally not of reference-grade. They use signal attenuation rather than triangulation to identify lightning strikes. As a result, many mobile detectors can mistakenly classify a weak strike as a strong one and vice versa. 

Space-Based Networks

These detection networks are satellites that locate the lightning range and intensity of a strike. Although space-based networks like GOES offer state-of-the-art geostationary lightning mapping and weather forecasting, these aren’t currently commercially available. One of the major limitations of most space-based lightning detection systems is that the data is several minutes old, meaning that their application for real-time lightning monitoring is severely limited. Additionally, these satellites do not provide continuous coverage, only detecting lightning in areas where the satellite passes over.

Lightning Detection vs Lightning Prediction: Don’t Be Fooled

Ever seen a “lightning predictor” and wondered why we can’t just forecast these powerful strikes? Here’s the truth: predicting lightning is like trying to guess which popcorn kernel will pop next. 

For one thing, using the term lightning prediction is a complete misnomer. These devices merely measure the electrostatic force in the atmosphere, making them more prone to false alarms and inaccurate readings. According to the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), it is impossible to forecast individual strikes because lightning is widespread, random, and frequent.

The National Lightning Safety Institute even states that platforms that claim to ‘predict’ lightning in advance (which is impossible; it’s just guesswork) should be rejected.” 

The good news? Perry Weather can detect lightning with incredible accuracy using the best lightning network in the business. This gives you real-time lightning data on nearby strikes, empowering you to make informed safety decisions during a storm.

Top 5 Lightning Detection Networks Ranked

Now that you know about the different types of lightning detection, here’s the lowdown on the top five professional-grade networks, ranking them based on reliability and how well they can keep you safe:

5. World Wide Lightning Location Network

This global lightning network focuses on shallow frequency (VLF) radio signals, making it a great tool for scientific research.

However, for everyday use, it lacks the precise, expansive, and detailed location-specific data and accuracy most organizations need.

4. National Weather Service (NWS) Lightning Data

The NWS provides basic lightning detection data alongside weather forecasts.

While a good starting point, the data may not be real-time and lacks the detailed lightning information offered by other networks like the NLDN.

3. Blitzortung

This European-based lightning detection network offers real-time lightning data with precise accuracy across Europe and Asia.

Although it does provide data for the United States, it lacks the extensive network of lightning sensors and precision of a more localized offering. If you frequently find yourself adventuring across the pond, Blitzortung can be a viable option.

2. Earth Networks Total Lightning Network

This network offers lightning detection worldwide and provides valuable data for broader storm and lightning tracking.

However, it doesn’t quite match the pinpoint precision and accuracy of the NLDN in locations across the United States. Its lightning detectors are also more susceptible to false positives.

1. National Lightning Detection Network (NLDN)

The National Lightning Detection Network (NLDN) reigns supreme as the most precise and reliable lightning data network in the continental U.S.

Established over 40 years ago, it has become the gold standard for accurate, real-time lightning data in the United States, detecting more lightning in real time than any other network, with pinpoint location accuracy.

 

The NLDN’s extensive network of over 187 (as of 2024) strategically placed ground-based lightning detection sensors instantly capture electromagnetic signals from lightning strikes. This sophisticated lightning detection equipment provides detailed information on each strike, including type, duration, and electrical charge. It’s easy to take this data for granted today, but the NLDN developed and pioneered this state-of-the-art technology. 

Pros:

Unparalleled Reliability: The National Lightning Detection Network boasts an uptime exceeding 99.99%, tracking lightning activity 24/7, 365 days a year. 

Lightning Fast Latency: The NLDN’s low latency ensures that lightning data reaches users in under 12 seconds, enabling the quickest response times. 

Unmatched Accuracy: The NLDN’s vast network of sensors provides pinpoint location accuracy across the United States in real-time, with precise coordinates of the lightning strike for targeted warnings and response efforts.

Identify Strike Type: The NLDN distinguishes between cloud-to-ground and cloud-to-cloud strikes for more precise threat assessment and accurate alert planning.

Duration and Polarity: The NLDN details the length of a strike and its electrical charge (positive or negative).

Peak Current: Measures the maximum intensity of the electrical current within the strike.

Cons:

Limited Geographic Scope: The National Lightning Detection Network primarily focuses on the continental United States and may not be effective for those in other regions.

Why Perry Weather Uses the National Lightning Detection Network (NLDN) 

At Perry Weather, weather safety is our top priority. That’s why we leverage the power of the NLDN to deliver the most precise and accurate real-time lightning alerts. 

Why the U.S Military Relies on the National Lightning Detection Network (NLDN)

The NLDN isn’t just at the top; it’s in a league of its own. The U.S. Military relies on the National Lightning Detection Network’s data for troop safety during training exercises, and NASA trusts the NLDN to protect valuable equipment and personnel during rocket launches. Now, this same level of sophisticated lightning intelligence and safety is available to you. 

Using NLDN’s technology, Perry Weather empowers you with the most advanced lightning intelligence available to help you stay ahead of the storm. The NLDN’s hyper-accurate data empowers organizations to make informed decisions on:

  • Real-Time Lightning Alerts: Issue timely warnings and implement safety protocols to protect staff or the public. Get real-time, hyper-accurate data on nearby strikes, not just basic alerts.
  • Protect What Matters: Secure critical infrastructure and equipment from potential lightning damage.
  • Minimize Downtime: Get rapid identification and mitigation of lightning-related damage.
  • Resource Deployment: Effectively allocating resources based on real-time lightning threats.
  • Future Planning: Analyze historical data to develop better lightning safety protocols and reduce future risks with efficient policy planning.

Remember: With lightning safety, every second counts. Choosing a reliable lightning detection network like the NLDN empowers you with the most accurate and timely information to make informed decisions and stay safe during a storm.

Don’t wait for the storm to strike! Be ready before lightning strikes, stay informed, and keep yourself and others safe with Perry Weather and the NLDN as your trusted lightning safety partners.

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