In Alabama, Carcione added, tornadoes are often associated with storms that are not particularly large. Lightning jumps are particularly useful in those situations and may help a forecaster see that severe weather is coming as much as five to 10 minutes before the radar sees it.
While there is no national lightning network for the Weather Service right now, the next set of geostationary satellites NOAA is scheduled to launch, beginning in late 2015, will have an instrument called a geostationary lightning mapper.
This mapper, once it is operational, will have the ability to see lightning over the entire United States and much of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, where ground-based lightning networks cannot reach.
NASA's Schultz is actually building his algorithm with this instrument in mind, even though it is a few years away from going live.
The satellite mapper is unlikely to put ground-based lightning sensors out of business, though, because it has limitations on its ability to differentiate between cloud-to-ground lightning and in-cloud lightning, Schultz said.
"That is the beauty of the ground-based systems," he said.
In the meantime, Marshall of Earth Networks continues his quest to improve lead times for tornado warnings using the network his company already has in place.
He hopes to improve tornado warnings to the point where people don't just have enough advance notice to huddle in their basement; he wants to give them enough time to get out of the way.
"If you only have 10 to 15 minutes' warning, there is not much you can do. You can try and get in the safest location that you have, but in big tornadoes it doesn't matter," Marshall said.
"If we could get to the point where people have a half-hour warning time, then you can actually leave. You can get in your car."
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500