3.5 Designing and Building Reliable, Low-Cost Lightning Detection Equipment

Monday, 8 January 2018: 3:00 PM
Room 13AB (ACC) (Austin, Texas)
Timothy Logan, Texas A&M Univ., College Station, TX; and S. N. Lane, N. Raggo, and C. Perez

Reliable measurements of lightning activity are essential to ensure public safety. A growing number of science enthusiasts and secondary school students are designing and operating low-cost technologies (< $50) that are capable of collecting meteorological data (e.g., temperature, pressure, wind speed and direction, humidity, etc.) and lightning detection. The benefits do not just end with the cost but extend to portability, reliability, and the fact that the data can be shared and compiled by various communities such as the general public, STEM teachers and students, and scientists. Several examples of data taken from our own in-house built, low-cost lightning detectors are presented and inter-compared in this study. The largest radius of detection is roughly 160 km and both intracloud (IC) and cloud-to-ground (CG) lightning flash events can be detected. The detectors consist of a digitally processed, RLC-radio circuit and are attached to a voltmeter and an Arduino microcontroller. The number and intensity of lightning events are recorded and stored in real-time. The detectors can alert the user if a storm is intensifying, weakening, or re-intensifying. Information on the waveform of the stepped leader, breakdown, return stroke, and dart leader can also be gathered and analyzed via the microcontroller. The detectors are validated using “ground-truth” observations from the Houston Lightning Mapping Array (LMA). Furthermore, a direct relationship between the 5-min lightning detector data and 5-min NEXRAD reflectivity data has been observed. Though the detectors currently lack the ability to pinpoint the location of a lightning flash, a flexible detection algorithm has been programmed into the microcontrollers to alert the user if lightning activity is either approaching or leaving the vicinity. The detectors also lack the ability to discern lightning polarity and anvil lightning (“anvil crawlers”). Hence, numerous opportunities exist for future projects that will address these issues to improve the reliability and functionality of the detectors, increase public awareness for lightning safety, and generate enthusiasm to learn more about lightning science.
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