Finding out details about a specific lightning strike
September 28, 2019 5:57 AM   Subscribe

Last night there was a major thunderstorm that hit Chicago and several photographers captured a particularly huge lightning strike on the Willis (Sears) Tower. One post on twitter has the timestamp and I was wondering if there was anyway to find out specific details about the strike from lighting monitoring data available on the web.
posted by srboisvert to Science & Nature (2 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I don't see any strikes there and then on lightningmaps but I'm not sure if I'm doing the time conversion correctly; it might be worth playing around with it.
posted by Jeanne at 5:36 PM on September 28, 2019

Well, using I created these kind of cool time-lapse maps of lightning strikes in the midwest around the time of that photo.

FYI 8:15pm 27 Sep 2019 Central Time translates to 1:15 28 Sep 2019 UTC.

This one shows the lightning strikes from 1:11-1:20UTC in time steps of 15 seconds.

If you zoom into the Chicago area, you'll see that no strikes are recorded 1:11:00-1:15:59, but a whole bunch of strikes are recorded at 1:16:08, 1:16:24, and 1:16:39.

So even though that is offset a little from the time indicated on the camera, I'm guessing it is one of that burst of strikes. The camera's time might be off a little, or blitzortung might bin times together or have some time discrepancies in how they map the strikes or something.

I looked a little on the map Jeanne linked but I couldn't find any from around 1:15UTC 28 Sep either, in that area. But you would have to search quite a large area to find it, I believe. We know where this strike hit, on the Willis Tower, but we don't know exactly where it originated or exactly how the lightning recording stations figure out the location of the strike. To find it, I think you'd have to search a circle at least a couple of miles in radius centered at the Willis Tower.

According to my interpretation, which might be wrong, the animated map linked above shows one strike just inland of Willis Tower and two just eastward out in the lake, at 1:16. But even with that additional clue, I couldn't find any of the three on You just have to zoom in too far to see the time of the strikes, and that makes searching the entire area extremely tedious.

Finally, in Blitzortung you can make a pretty cool time lapse map of the time around this strike. Go to this map, choose 28 Sep 2019, Time 1:00, Review 2 hr loop (or however long you want) and you'll see that this lightning strike was one of many!

That's about the best info you're going to out of the lightning strike database, I'm afraid. only shows the location, exact time, and something like "S:13/34" - which I'm not even sure what that means. So as near as I can tell, you're not going to get much more out of these databases than location and time of strike, which you already know from the photo, and how it fits into the overall pattern of strikes around that time, which is shown in the time lapse maps linked above.
posted by flug at 8:04 PM on September 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

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