The development of the National Lightning Detection Network (NLDN) can be traced from the initial funding by the Electric Power Research Institute in June 1983. This support, when coupled with a small National Science Foundation-sponsored research program at the State University of New York at Albany, would lead in just six years to the coverage of 48 states by a network of lightning detectors providing the location and physical characteristics of nearly all cloud-to-ground lightning flashes in the continental United States. The generous sharing of data from existing federal lightning detection networks provided one-third of this national coverage. The measured lightning characteristics included stroke location to an accuracy of roughly 2 km, polarity and peak current estimates, and flash multiplicity or number of strokes within the flash. The development of satellite communications during this period ensured the receipt of data and the transmission of flash characteristics to consumers in the university, government, and private sectors. The history of the NLDN development is a story driven by technology with its roots in the 1970s. The future of lightning detection is embodied within the current satellite plans for a Geostationary Lightning Mapper to observe total lightning in the Western Hemisphere as part of the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R (GOESR) program, with launch dates as early as 2014.
Cooperative Institute for Applied Meteorological Studies, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas