In Brief

Lightning Detector System Tracks Storms in Western Africa

World lightning strikes
The global distribution of lightning from April 1995 to February 2003. (Image credit: NOAA)

Storms are usually tracked with Doppler radar, but these systems are expensive and not available everywhere around the world, especially in developing countries. Guinea, a small country in western Africa, has started using a new, cheaper technique for charting weather: tracking flashes of lightning.

The system uses lightning as a proxy for storm intensity, and most recently used the method to track and issue an alert for a large thunderstorm that hammered western Guinea with rain and high winds on Oct. 22. The whole network consists of 12 lightning detectors placed atop mobile phone towers throughout the country, and was installed by the American company Earth Networks at a cost of US$1 million, according to Nature. A Doppler radar would cost about 10 times that much, Nature noted.

"With this project, we receive virtually real-time data throughout the entire country," Mamadou Lamine Bah, director of the lightning-tracking service, told Nature.

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Douglas Main
Douglas Main loves the weird and wonderful world of science, digging into amazing Planet Earth discoveries and wacky animal findings (from marsupials mating themselves to death to zombie worms to tear-drinking butterflies) for Live Science. Follow Doug on Google+.