Peak winds in hurricanes are preceded by an increase in lightning activity by about one day, according to a study published online in Nature Geoscience. The evolution of hurricane intensity is extremely important for accurate early warning systems but has been difficult to predict. Lightning activity is easily monitored globally and could provide a powerful tool for hurricane forecasters.
Colin Price and colleagues tracked the wind speeds of all the severe hurricanes (category 4 and 5) around the globe from 2005 to 2007, and compared them with global lightning data. For 70% of the storms, lightning activity in the region of a hurricane peaked in advance of the highest wind speeds, and 55% showed a positive correlation between lightning activity and hurricane wind speeds at a fixed lead time of 30 hours.
The authors suggest that studying lightning data may help understand the processes that lead to hurricane intensification.