National Lightning Safety Council

Daile Zhang

The National Lightning Safety Council is working to shine a spotlight on the lightning hazard and expand its mission to promote lightning safety awareness. This month the Council connected with member, Daile Zhang, to discuss her role in the lightning safety effort.

Q. What is your background or education?

I received my PhD degree in atmospheric science with remote sensing as minor at the University of Arizona.

Q. How did you get interested in lightning safety?

I have always been interested in working to reduce damages/loss from natural disasters. My doctoral work focused on lightning physics and lightning detection, which further inspired my specific interest in lightning safety. During my PhD time, I worked with two NLSC members Mr. Ron Holle and Dr. Mary Ann Cooper. They introduced me to the work they have done for lightning safety in the U.S. and internationally. That was when I realized that there is still a lot to be done.

Q. How did you get involved with the National Lightning Safety Council?

I was invited by Dr. Mary Ann Cooper and Mr. Ron Holle. I have worked with both of them for years, especially Ron. We had a lot of collaboration research before.

Q. What do you see in the future regarding the study of lightning? What do you think is moving the cause of lightning safety and lightning safety awareness forward?

I think that we need to get more international attention and collaborations on lightning science and safety education. Education for the younger generations will definitely help their understanding of lightning science and gain their awareness of lightning risks. The success of reducing the annual lightning fatality and injuries in the U.S. in the past 30 years has demonstrated that lightning safety education really works! We will continue the hard work to save more lives. In addition, we have a lot of advanced technology that we did not have 30 years ago. The technology will help us build better affordable lightning protection facilities that will prevent potential lightning damage.

Q. Can you tell us about a specific project you are working on or are passionate about in the study of lightning or the lightning safety awareness movement?

We are working to make all the available satellite-based lightning data easy to access and are promoting the use of this satellite data by people around the world. The big advantage of the satellite data is that it is free to use. That would be a great resource for countries that are lack of ground-based lightning network or radar. Currently, we have lightning sensors on three geostationary satellites and one on the International Space Station that cover a good portion of the world. This data is used for early lightning warnings and improving severe weather nowcasting, forecasting and the lead-time to reduce potential lightning and other severe weather hazards. Studies have shown that the satellite data can increase the lead- time (now about 19 minutes) of severe weather hazards. This not only prevents potential lightning fatality/injuries, but also lightning-related weather hazards such as hails, strong winds and tornadoes.

Q. Do you have any other comments or words of wisdom for readers?

There are a lot of lightning-related myths, such as “lightning never strikes the same place twice.” This statement is incorrect. Although, in a wide flat area, it is unlikely that lightning will strike the same point twice in a long period of time, lightning can hit a specific object (especially taller ones) many times. For instance, the Empire State Building is a frequent target for lightning strikes. Note that lightning tends to strike taller objects, but it may strike a nearby shorter one under certain conditions. So shorter objects are NOT safe during a thunderstorm. Some of these myths were explained in a booklet that Ron and I wrote a few years ago. ###