PulseRad – A Behind-the-Scenes Look

by Dr. Charlie Liu, Chief Architect, Earth Networks

Figure 1. PulseRad at 2011-08-12 07:54 UTC

Earth Networks recently introduced PulseRadSM technology, the first radar alternative based on Total Lightning detection. In case you did not see my presentation about PulseRad at the 2012 AMS Annual Meeting in New Orleans in January, here is a bit of background on the potential benefits of the technology that was developed with two goals in mind:

  • To improve forecasts and lead times for dangerous and r severe weather, such as damaging winds, large hail, tornadoes, and floods. For example, combining this radar alternative with information from our existing weather network, we can estimate rainfall rates.
  • To serve as a cost-effective radar alternative and provide visibility where radar is not deployed or in remote regions where radar coverage is incomplete or nonexistent.

    Figure 2. 24 hour rainfall estimate from PulseRad on 2011-08-13 12:00 UTC

Developing the algorithms for the patent-pending PulseRad technology was an extensive process. To investigate the relationships between the lightning flash rate and the radar reflectivity, I studied the lightning data and radar data for U.S. from the full year of 2011.

In the database, there are hundreds of millions of flashes detected by the Earth Networks Total Lightning Network (ENTLN). Each flash data point records information, such as the latitude, longitude, height, peak current and the flash time, with the precision up to microsecond. The radar data are stored in binary gridded files, which include grid node and the maximum radar reflectivity (dBZ) values.

To carry out the research, the first step was to track the lightning cells from the lightning flash data. Once the cells are available, the lightning flash rates and the radar dBZ values are compared.

While the idea is straightforward, implementing the program was another story. With the two most powerful cloud servers available and using modern parallel processing techniques, it took several weeks to finish the analysis. As a result, we can clearly see the relationships between the lightning flash rates and the radar dBZ values; we can also see the subtle differences in the relationships for different seasons and different climate zones.  This means we can create a proxy radar map from the total lightning data in areas that radar data is not available because radar is not deployed. The proxy radar, as shown, provides visibility into storm activity over areas such as oceans and mountains.

The result?  PulseRad and the other technologies we have developed could provide meteorologists, industry, safety officials and governments with additional information and technology to help plan and prepare for extreme weather in the years to come.

About Earth Networks

Earth Networks gathers and analyzes environmental observations from around the world to help promote a better understanding of the planet and its atmosphere.
This entry was posted in atmospheric science, Extreme Weather, Lightning Detection, Lightning Science and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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