MetraWeather and TOA Systems build out pan-Oceania lightning location network

Lightning over the Pacific

MetraWeather and partner, TOA Systems Inc., have successfully completed the first phase of a pan-Oceania lightning location network that will ultimately reach across the Pacific.

MetraWeather is a specialist global weather insights company and vendor of weather and lightning location services to the media, transport, industrial, and energy sectors. The company is backed by the scientific and meteorological expertise of parent company, MetService, the WMO-accredited New Zealand National Meteorological Service (NMS). 

TOA Systems Inc., headquartered in Florida, USA, is a preeminent vendor of lightning location and alerting systems, and state-of-the-art sensors. Over the past 10 years, TOA has installed more than 600 sensors in over 50 countries. It owns and operates, for example, the Australian lightning network incorporating over 100 sensors.

The high-resolution network will improve Oceania’s resilience to severe weather events and provide meteorological agencies and commercial users with a level of lightning visibility never before seen.

Lightning is one of the most dangerous and frequently encountered weather hazards. It can take lives, cause severe injuries, damage vital infrastructure, and disrupt commercial operations. These disruptions include operational impacts upon airports, energy utilities, communications networks, and the tourism industry upon which some Pacific economies are dependent.

Scientists believe that climate change is escalating the severity of extreme weather events, and that lightning will more and more impact Pacific communities already vulnerable to weather events such as tropical cyclones.

The concept of a pan-Oceania subnetwork of the global TOA lightning location network grew quickly from an idea discussed at the 2016 InterMET Asia conference, where MetraWeather, TOA and Tonga Meteorological Service staff talked about the feasibility of the project.

Senior Forecaster at Tonga Meteorological Service, Moleni Tu’uholoaki, was a delegate at InterMET Asia. He says the introduction of the lightning technology echoes how Pacific Islanders have for centuries noted the presence of the Lesser Frigate Bird (Fregata Minor) near or over land as a predictor of when there is bad weather and tropical cyclones out to sea.

“The lightning location system will help improve meteorology capability in our region, in a similar way to how the Frigate Bird supported past generations,” says Moleni.

The first phase of the programme has seen the planned installation of TOA sensors in the Cook Islands, Fiji, Niue, Raoul Island, Samoa, American Samoa, Tokelau, and Tonga.

Data from these installation sites is combined with information from other TOA lightning sensor installation sites to form a true lightning detection network, with many sensors in the network detecting the same single lightning event thus introducing improved detection efficiency, location accuracy and redundancy to the network.

The data generated by the sensors will enable meteorological agencies in the islands to augment their public safety forecasting and improve their communities’ resilience to lightning strikes. Lightning data will also be of interest to commercial operators in the hospitality, mining, aviation and marine sectors.

The sensors are networked together to deliver quality near real-time lightning data of not only lightning activity in the vicinity of the host countries, but neighbouring countries and much wider afield via a low-bandwidth webpage that is accessed by the Pacific meteorological services by way of their existing SWFDDP (Severe Weather Forecasting Disaster Risk Reduction Demonstration Project) MetConnect Pacific  website.

MetraWeather and TOA plan to expand the network from west to east and north to south encompassing the entire Oceania region. This will enable the regions’ forecasters to work collaboratively tracking weather events across the Pacific.

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