[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]
The most common natural disaster in the U.S. is flash flooding, which usually hits out of the not clear blue sky. Now researchers are trying to establish an early warning system for flash floods—by counting another flash, lightning.
Normal floods often come from melting snow, so there’s plenty of time to prepare. But heavy rains lead to quick flash floods, which are the leading weather-related cause of death in the U.S. Colin Price at Tel Aviv University is studying the link between lightning and the flash floods that result from downpours.
Price and researchers from five European universities are measuring radiation emitted by lightning. The lightning info enables scientists to pinpoint the most intense thunderstorms, and thus calculate both the path of a storm and the locations of the heaviest rain. Add data about ground topography and vegetation cover and you have what insiders call not forecasting but nowcasting: predictions about weather in the next minutes and hours. Price says that satellites will soon provide real-time detection of lightning worldwide, which should let researchers predict floods in a flash.