Several years ago, I had the honor of working a NCAA golf tournament as their meteorologist. Being that this tournament was in the summer, and that thunderstorms were in the forecast for multiple days, I set up my station to display two things: a vendor-provided lightning display that the NCAA uses officially, and then mine: GRAnalyst with a lightning subscription through AllisonHouse.
On the second day of the tournament, we had thunderstorms violate the boundary where players and spectators needed to be evacuated. Lightning showed up on my AllisonHouse display first, and it did so 10 minutes before the official display did. And then, when we heard the thunder, on the official display, the bolt was not seen AT ALL, but on mine, all 5 thunderclaps we heard in the next several minutes were picked up by AllisonHouse’s lightning service, but not by the official display.
What the heck?
I then went on a rant to myself about how the official vendor’s lightning data was lousy and dangerous. But after the event was over, I spent time to research what went wrong. And it was there that I found a stunning answer.
Most lightning data vendors for sports and entertainment venues only display cloud-to-ground lightning strikes, and NOT those that are cloud to air, cloud to cloud, or intracloud lightning (I’ll just call these cloud-to-air, for simplicity). At AllisonHouse, we give you the option to plot either/or with our placefiles.
Now, you can argue: “Hey, if a lightning bolt doesn’t hit the ground, then it was harmless, so why would you want to see those bolts plotted anyway?” The answer is simple: they are very frequently a prelude to the next cloud to ground lightning strike.
As stated in the NCAA rulebook: if you have lightning within 12 miles of your outdoor event, you must immediately stop the contest and evacuate all participants and spectators to shelter. For the PGA Tour, it states explicitly:
“PGA TOUR Officials are constantly monitoring the weather with an on-site meteorologist and state of the art technology. In the event that lightning is detected at a distance from the course that threatens the safety of the individuals at the event, play is immediately suspended and the course is evacuated for safety precautions.” Source: https://www.pgatour.com/company/pga-tour-faqs.html
Again, it does not specify what type of lightning requires evacuation. ALL lightning is potentially dangerous, and cloud to air strikes are frequently your early warning that ground strikes are occurring, or imminent.
Here at AllisonHouse, we offer lightning data from what we believe through research is the best available in terms of quality and timeliness. This ground-based network is exemplary in detecting the location and type of lightning accurately, within 100′ when using our raw data feed product. Furthermore, AllisonHouse also delivers lightning data strike locations from the GOES-16/17 Lightning Mapper (GLM). With these two data sources, your meteorologist can accurately diagnose the situation. It’s always fun when I get a lightning strike near me and hear the thunder, and as the thunder trails off, I can see where the bolt was exactly on my monitor!
In summary, if you want to see the complete lightning picture where you are, get an AllisonHouse subscription! Our lightning data is the best available, 24/7/365. The only caveat to this, and this applies to all lightning vendors: during thundersnow with extreme snowfall rates, a few flashes might go undetected. This is possibly because the snow literally mutes the static discharge to the point that the discharges are too weak to detect them. I see this happen during extreme snowfall rates, and even my AM radio tuned to a weak or non-existing station barely glitches during these events. Regardless, when you want the best and affordable lightning data, come to us…I think you’ll find our data services strikingly good and affordable! I mean, it will shock you how good our service is. Once you try us, you’ll never want to bolt!
Anyway…please send an email to our support address with any questions you may have about our data. We’ll be happy to assist you in any way that we can, to help you prepare and be ready for another storm season!