Earth Networks Part 3
April 8, 2013

EXCLUSIVE: Earth Networks – An Affordable Storm Tracker For Underprivileged Nations

Part 3 of redOrbit´s exclusive 6-part series

Alan McStravick for - Your Universe Online

In the last installment of this series, we took a close-up look at the technology behind Earth Networks Total Lightning Network (ENTLN). In part 3, we will look at the rate of false alarms put out by the ENTLN and compare those to the warning system utilized by the National Weather Service (NWS). We will also look at an anecdotal situation where Robert Marshall, CEO of Earth Networks, believes the ENTLN could be useful in averting the loss of life due to unexpected and non-forewarned severe weather.

Addressing false alarms associated with ENTLN, Marshall cited a paper written by researchers from both Earth Networks and the University of Oklahoma and presented at the most recent American Meteorological Society conference. The detailed analysis showed their alert system has a false alarm rate of about 80 percent — roughly the same as the NWS which has a rate of about 75 to 80 percent.

On their own, these figures can be misleading. With both ENTLN and NWS, the alerts and warnings are issued across a wider geographic area than where storm damage will actually occur. With an alert or warning comprised of several geographic grids, there may only actually be damage in one or two of the areas. The outlying grids are provided with advance notice because they are in an area that could conceivably be affected by the severe weather. For certain types of storm weather, the ENTLN seems to be as effective as the NWS without the use of satellites and radar.

Marshall concedes his system is very effective but that it cannot take the place of radar and satellite technology in every instance. However, he did note of specific instance of ENTLN´s superiority over the Total Lightning Mapper (TLM) sensor that will be onboard the GOES-R satellite, set to launch in 2015. The key issue is spatial resolution. According to both NASA and NOAA scientists, the satellite´s TLM is expected to achieve a resolution of 8 to 10 km (approximately 6 miles). While this is an impressive feat for an optical sensor located in space, the ENTLN has a spatial resolution of  about 200 meters. This means the satellite can narrow an individual strike down to within 6 miles, while ENTLN can pinpoint a strike within two football fields. When the goal is to notify people of severe weather, the more accurate the system is, the better.

Through the Clinton Global Initiative, Earth Networks is working with the government of Haiti and their cell phone providers to launch sensors on the island. A new innovation with ENTLN is what they are calling PULSERAD. This is a radar-like animation that is made completely through the lightning data they collect. They believe this product could be an important tool for nations that cannot afford to invest billions of dollars in a traditional radar system. With the calamities that have befallen the nation of Haiti, they were recognized as being able to immediately benefit from a program like this.

Marshall offered up other examples where ENTLN and PULSERAD could be useful. “Look at Lake Victoria in Kenya. They lose 5000 people a year on that lake. They are fishermen and they live and die by going out and fishing on that lake every day,” he said. “They go out in these little rowboats to fish and storms come up and they capsize. They have no radar. No warning.” Marshall noted that getting an ENTLN system up and running there would provide the kind of inexpensive yet effective early warning that the region needs.

However, with the thousands of yearly deaths from severe weather, the World Meteorological Organization has already launched research into the area with several partner organizations to address the issue. While Marshall is confident in his company´s abilities, it appears the WMO project is currently moving ahead without Earth Networks.

Part 4 of this series will explore Earth Network´s general-use app, WeatherBug, as well as other client services that the company offers.