back to article They say lightning never strikes twice, but boffins have built an AI to show where it'll come next

Machine learning algorithms can predict when and where lightning will strike, according to new research published in npj Climate and Atmospheric Science. That might sound impressive at first, but the study is still pretty crude considering its limits. The forecast can only guess that a thunderbolt will flash somewhere within a …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    wow that's a very lightningy photo o.o

  2. Mephistro Silver badge

    "...leading cause of death under “natural hazard processes” in Switzerland, after snow avalanches. "

    What? No tsunamis? Lucky guys!

    1. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Over longer than proper records exist I believe tsunamis would actually come out top as "natural hazard process" deaths there. I did read about a massive loss of life due to a landslide into a lake there in the distant past.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        True, but if that happens in Switzerland, the rest of us may not have to worry about it. Or lightening. Ever again.

      2. jmch Silver badge

        That was a Roman-era tsunami at what now is Geneva caused by a landslide at the opposite end of the lake:

        Any loss of life was surely only massive in relative rather than absolute terms. Landslides in general are historically big natural disasters in Switzerland, and I guess avalanches can be grouped in the same set

  3. Oengus Silver badge

    My father used to say I was lightning with an axe... I never struck the same place twice. I wonder how the AI model would go with that.

  4. Alister Silver badge

    1,023 deaths in 69 years, definitely something needs doing to stop the appalling death rate.

    1. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Keep away from things that point into the sky. The logical conclusion to this is to walk down the middle of the road!

  5. Pete4000uk

    If it doesn't strike twice

    Shouldnt it have run out of places to strike by now?

    1. ATeal

      Re: If it doesn't strike twice

      uncountably infinite.

      Also not striking twice in the same place is not some maxim or empirical law. If it was by square-meters alone it's nowhere near out of places to strike, make smaller as needed :)

    2. Kimo

      Re: If it doesn't strike twice

      I used to live about a block from a university dorm that was the only 7-story building for about 70 miles in any direction, which was built on a ridge in the middle of the Mississippi delta, some of the most amazingly flat land in the world. It got 2-3 strikes every time we had a good storm.

      1. IceC0ld Silver badge

        Re: If it doesn't strike twice

        some of the most amazingly flat land in the world. It got 2-3 strikes every time we had a good storm.

        you may need to move to - or avoid Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela - going on for 1.2 MILLION lightning strikes a year in one small part of the lake where the river Catatumbo joins

        had a mate worked in the region for a while many years back, he said it was sort of awesome - SORT OF ffs

  6. ThatOne Silver badge

    What for?

    I'm pretty sure most people getting struck by lightning in Switzerland are somewhere on a mountainside, trekking or working (livestock farming). Even if they knew a lightning will most likely hit the area in the next 30 minutes, their options are limited: There is no cover to be found, and being on foot they can't move too fast either.

    The only useful information for them would be to know if there will be any lightning strikes on their path during the following 12-24h, so they can plan ahead and stay at home if needed.

    1. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

      Re: What for?

      To be really useful the system needs to predict where Cu-Nims are likely to form during the next hour or so, but that probably needs rather more data from a wider area than a 'local weather station' can provide unless there's a linked network of them. In any case, such a prediction is probably beyond the capability of any current weather forecasting systems unless Matthew Scutter has cracked it.

      1. ThatOne Silver badge

        Re: What for?

        Indeed definitely beyond the reach of current meteorology, especially in mountain environments which are full of special micro-climates with surprising interactions.

    2. Benson's Cycle

      Re: What for?

      Your recommendation tallies with the official advice. The obvious bit of advice, however, seems to get ignored by a lot of people - don't hold on to upright pieces of metal and don't shelter under trees.

      And don't be male.

      The Swiss statistics show that four times as many men as women get killed by lightning. Switzerland is protected by the goddess Helvetia. It would seem she's a bit of a misandrist.

      1. ThatOne Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: What for?

        > don't be male

        Great example of causation/correlation mix-up!...

        (Although IIRC the name has rather something to do with a Gaulish tribe living in that region, like France was named for the Franks, Scotland for the "Scoti", and England for the "Ængle" (Angles).)

        1. Benson's Cycle

          Re: What for?

          There's a picture of Helvetia on the currency, or at least there used to be when I used to visit,by Toutatis.

          1. ThatOne Silver badge

            Re: What for?

            > picture of Helvetia

            As you probably already know, personifications of abstract patriotic notions were very popular at the time. Those were the figureheads of the nation, and as such female, usually bare-breasted (and yet martial), something to catch the attention of young soldiers and sailors... When you're young you're much more eager to go die for some cute topless lady than for somebody else's financial interests...


            Since I wasn't entirely sure, as I initially said, I did a quick check on Wikipedia and they concur. More important, Asterix concurs too: "Astérix chez les Helvètes" ("Asterix in the land of the Helvetii")!... ;-)

            1. Benson's Cycle

              Re: What for?

              I hope the sense of humour bypass wasn't too painful.

              Since you seem to be taking this far more seriously than I did, can I just point out that "abstract personification" is a pretty good description of most gods of the ancient world. Poseidaon started as the god of horses but when the Greeks became seafaring became the god of the sea. Thor is the personification of thunder and lighting. Athena is the goddess of wisdom but also the abstract personification of Athens. One of the best introductions to this subject is actually provided by the late lamented Sir Terry Pratchett; in the Discworld, as people come up with abstract ideas so wandering, unimportant deities acquire them as identities. The concept of death is so important that it sums up a personification out of the void, which then acquires a personality. (The Discworld is a much more fun read than The Golden Bough but makes a lot of the same points.)

        2. ATeal

          Re: What for?

          Are you just saying or are you implying the guy didn't know that when he said "being male"? If so someone needs a sense of humour. That someone might be....

          1. ThatOne Silver badge

            Re: What for?

            > Are you just saying or are you implying

            If you're talking to me, please take a moment to notice the "thumbs up" icon on my post. It was a post of appreciation, not criticism.

            That's the problem with online one-liners: You sometimes have to dot the i's and cross the t's twice to prevent misunderstandings you didn't ever expect...

    3. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

      Re: What for?

      The only useful information for them would be to know if there will be any lightning strikes on their path during the following 12-24h, so they can plan ahead and stay at home if needed.

      Or consider wearing their "ACME Lightning Protection Suit", with the "Money back guarantee, if not satisfied"

  7. Paul Crawford Silver badge

    Electric field measurement?

    I wonder if immediate strike prediction is your thing if it would be helpful for the weather stations to also read out the immediate electric field strength, ought to be a good indicator of growing thunder storms?

    1. Benson's Cycle

      Re: Electric field measurement?

      Electric field strength varies enormously with location and time during thunderstorms. By the time it's increasing rapidly in your vicinity it may be too late.

      It is possible to detect lightning discharges with a VLF* radio receiver. I don't know if any work has been done on studying the resulting signals, as when I was playing with them computers weren't available for that sort of thing. (My parents didn't know about my large aerial distributed around the attic and had they done I suspect they would have been seriously worried. But I rather thought the lightning conductor on the church nearby would handle it.)

      *Basically audio frequency. Mine used an EF86 in a standard preamp configuration and connected to an old Navy sonar set. The stuff you could get surplus in the 1960s!

  8. AceRimmer1980

    This is heavy

    But we know where it'll strike, that's how the clock stopped.

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