PANOLA TOWNSHIP, Texas (KLTV) – As powerful storms spawned tornadoes in East Texas last week, a special instrument tracked lightning data from the International Space Station while flying 250 miles above.
On Tuesday, Dec. 13, the National Weather Service said an EF2 tornado with winds of 115 mph touched down in northern Panola County around 3:30 p.m., traveling nine miles into Harrison County.
The storms damaged several homes and buildings in East Texas, then spawned another deadly tornado hours after crossing the state border into northern Louisiana.
Researchers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center are now examining data collected around the same time from the Lightning Imaging Sensor on the International Space Station (ISS-LIS).
The LIS, installed on the station in 2017, monitors all global lightning both day and night. The device was produced as a spare for an earlier satellite system and sat on a shelf for 20 years before being deployed to the ISS. According to NASA, it detects the distribution and variability of cloud-to-cloud, intra-cloud and cloud-to-ground lightning.
In a newly released map illustration, data collected by the IRS shows more than 100 lightning strikes across East Texas, northwest Louisiana and southwest Arkansas between 3:31 p.m. and 3:33 p.m.
According to NASA meteorologist Christopher Schultz, these jumps in the number of lightning flashes could indicate an increased potential for strong storms and severe weather.
“The rate of change provides a critical advance when significant changes occur during a storm, allowing time to warn those in the path.”
Schultz said they aim to use the LIS measurements to improve severe storm identification in the future.
“The events of the last few days are examples of extreme convection that we can use as a benchmark in these analyses.”
The LIS device also enables reliable observation of lightning in daylight.
“Weak lightning signals that occur during the day are difficult to detect due to background lighting,” according to NASA’s website.
The instrument continues to provide valuable data, although it is expected to operate on a 2-4 year mission starting in 2017.
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