Rights: University of Waikato Published 29 April 2014 Download


Craig Rodger

People want to know about lightning for so many reasons, and that’s one of the reasons why we were able to find friends all over the world who were willing to host radio receivers for the WWLLN network.

People want to know about lightning for lots of different reasons. One reason is because people are worried about being struck by lightning or they’re worried about their houses being struck by lightning or they’re worried about lightning occurring somewhere near their house, which might zap their stereo or their TV or whatever, and that’s not common, but it happens, and people worry about it.

In some parts of the world, lightning triggers forest fires. In Australia, it’s very common. On the west coast of the United States, it’s very common, and if you’re worried about big fires and what they do both to the forest and to people and animals, then you’d really like to know where it started. Knowing where the lightning was, you can do that.

In New Zealand, the New Zealand MetService runs a little lightning location network just for New Zealand, and that was set up because Transpower was worried about their electrical grid being struck by lightning. Doesn’t happen very often, but it does happen.

And airlines are interested in lightning. They’re not interested in lightning so much as thunderstorms, and thunderstorms – there’s very intense winds, which are not good to fly through. If you’re flying along and you get into very intense winds, you might go up or down very suddenly, which would be unpleasant for everybody on the plane, so you’d like to know where the thunderstorms are and you’d like to know where they are a long way in advance. So instead of doing that around the thunderstorm, you do that – you just do a really gradual turn.

There’s lots of reasons, and then there’s scientific reasons because we want to understand the thunderstorms, we want to understand the lightning, we want to understand what the radio waves do, we want to understand the sprites. Oh, lightning’s a cool thing to do.

Associate Professor Craig Rodger, University of Otago, Department of Physics
Daytime thunder and lightning storm footage courtesy MrRegShoe Creative Commons 3.0 license
MetConnect StrikeCast images courtesy of MetService