Space Station device monitored lightning in East Texas during last week’s tornadic storms

PANOLA COUNTY, Texas (KLTV) – As powerful storms produced tornadoes in East Texas last week, a special device was tracking lightning data from the International Space Station, flying 250 miles up.

On Tuesday, December 13, a National Weather Service survey determined an EF2 tornado with maximum 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 structures in East Texas, then spawned another deadly tornado after crossing the state line in northern Louisiana hours later.

Researchers from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center are now looking at data collected at the same time by the Lightning Imaging Sensor on the International Space Station (ISS-LIS).

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The Lightning Imaging Sensor (LIS) is mounted on the International Space Station and has...
The Lightning Imaging Sensor (LIS) has been mounted on the International Space Station and has been providing data to researchers on the ground since 2017.(Source: NASA)

LIS, installed on the station in 2017, monitors total global lightning both day and night. The device was produced as a backup for an earlier satellite-based system and was shelved for 20 years before being placed on the ISS. According to NASA, it detects the distribution and variability of lightning from cloud to cloud, within the cloud, and from cloud to ground.

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In a newly released map illustration, data collected by LIS shows more than 100 lightning strikes in East Texas, northwest Louisiana and southwest Arkansas between 3:31 p.m. and 3:33 p.m.

This map shows lightning detected by LIS on the International Space Station between...
This map shows lightning flashes detected by LIS on the International Space Station between 15:38 and 15:52 (CT) on December 13. “Magnitude represents the number of lightning flashes. Colors indicate the brightness of the flash. The data is overlaid on a NOAA GOES Image,” NASA said.(Source: NASA)

According to NASA meteorologist Christopher Schultz, these jumps in the number of lightning could indicate a strengthening storm and increasing potential for severe weather.

“The rate of change provides a critical lead time that significant changes are occurring in the storm, providing time to warn those in the path.”

Schultz said they intend to use the LIS measurements to improve the identification of severe storms in the future.

“The events of the past few days provide examples of extreme convection that we can use as benchmarks in these analyses.”

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The LIS device also makes it possible to perform reliable sunlight observation of lightning.

“Weak lightning signals that occur during the day are difficult to detect due to background illumination,” a NASA website said.

The instrument continues to provide valuable data, despite being intended to operate on a 2-4 year mission starting in 2017.


+ National Weather Service survey reveals tornado damage in Panola, Harrison counties

+ Cleanup is underway after the storm causes damage to the Elysian Fields

+ Sheriff: Mother and child die after tornado destroys homes in Caddo Parish, Louisiana

+ Elysian Fields resident describes witnessing storm damage, hearing freight train rumble


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