Lightning Detection

The Forestry Division operates a lightning detection system developed by VAISALA. The system enables fire managers to monitor cloud-to-ground lightning activity on a provincial basis.

Principles of Lightning Detection

The system uses a unique characteristic of cloud-to-ground lightning—its waveform—to accurately differentiate it from cloud-to-cloud discharges and calculate its location.

The initiation of the cloud-to-ground strike releases an intense, short burst of electrical energy. This rapid burst of energy travels through the atmosphere much as radio waves do. The most unique characteristic of the waveform is its extremely rapid rise to peak energy.

This distinctive feature of cloud-to-ground lightning provides the means for real-time detection. The sensors also use time of arrival of the lightning signature and GPS location to accurately determine the position.

The primary components of the LLP lightning detection system are:

  • Lightning Sensors
  • CP7000
  • Display Systems

Alberta Lightning Detection Partnership

Forestry Division developed a partnership to upgrade the provincial lightning detection network and to share the real-time data with these outside agencies:

  • Alberta Electrical System Operator
  • Altalink
  • Fortis
  • ATCO Electric
  • Parks Canada

In addition, real-time, raw data is shared with the Northwest Territories Department of Renewable Resources to enhance the capabilities of the networks operated by both agencies.

Data Analysis

Various data analysis has been performed on our historical lightning data, which extends back to 1983. The Lightning Occurrence Map for 1992-1996 has been quite popular. Future endeavours involve overlaying topography on this map and expanding the data to include all the years available.

For questions about lightning detection, contact PFFC Weather Section at:

Updated: May 26, 2022