How does lightning detection work

How Does Lightning Detection Work?

Have you ever heard that you should count the time between a lightning strike and the thunder that accompanies it?  The rule of thumb is to divide the amount of seconds later by 5.  This should give you a rough estimate of how far away a lightning strike is.  This is a great tactic if you find yourself stuck in a storm, but it doesn’t really answer the question, how does lightning detection work?

Lightning emits electromagnetic pulses (EMPs).  In turn, lightning detectors can pick up on these pulses and measure their strength for an estimated distance away.  In addition, some lightning detectors can even extrapolate whether a storm is coming towards you or going away from you based on information from multiple strikes.  Lightning strikes have a specific waveform.  This allows lightning detection devices to pick up on the waves for processing from 25-50 miles away.

Unfortunately, there can be interference with other EMP emitting devices.  This interference can cause false alarms in the device.  For this reason, most lightning detectors will not work well indoors.  Despite some limitations, personal lightning detection devices have become increasingly popular in recent years due to increased functionality.

There are many reasons a person might require lightning detection for safety reasons.  Sports fields, emergency responders, hikers, campers, boaters, and many others might find themselves in a situation where lightning detection could be important.  Yes, lighting striking people is rare, but it can be deadly.  The good news that lighting fatalities have decreased dramatically over the recent decades due to lightning detection methods.

Lightning fatalities

There are many personal lighting detectors available for purchase that provide varying results.  Some of the less expensive models provide basic information and estimations.  Whereas, a few of the higher-end lighting detectors offer top accuracy, number of lightning strikes, distance away, and if it’s coming or going.

If you’re interested in purchasing one of these devices, check out our page on the 5 best lighting detectors so you can be an informed buyer.  It includes both basic models as well as some higher performing ones.  Of course, some home weather stations also come with basic lighting detection included.  A couple of examples include AcuRite’s 01022M and 01024M models.  Click the images below to see pricing, availability, and reviews of each weather station with lightning detection at Amazon.

In addition to using lighting detection devices, the National Weather Service has provided this Overview of Lightning Safety.  Following this guide will help understand the threat and minimize the risk of being struck by lightning.  Furthermore, the CDC has provided these safety tips to avoid being struck.

We hope we’ve helped answer the question, “how does lightning detection work?” and hope you’ll follow the warnings and keep safe next time you encounter a lightning storm.


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