Washington, Nov 21 : A researcher from Tel Aviv University in Israel is studying lightning strikes to predict flash floods.
Unlike normal floods, which arrive slowly and with more warning, flash floods are particularly dangerous because they happen so quickly, developing from thunderstorms that form in a matter of hours.
The researcher, who is studying the link between lightning and subsequent flash floods is Professor Colin Price, coordinator of the international "Flash Project" and head of the Geophysics and Planetary Physics Department at Tel Aviv University.
The three-year study includes scientists from five European countries, and its results are expected to be adopted by weather forecasting agencies around the world.
The goal is to develop an early warning system for people in the path of a flood.
"Flash floods are different from normal floods, which are often the product of melting snow. Flash floods are short-lived and dump a lot of rain," said Professor Price, a climate change specialist.
"Using the radiation emitted from lightning flashes, we've developed a system that can give adequate warning to the public ? and save lives," he added.
Eventually, the Flash system may be used to send messages to cell phones, RSS feeds, GPS units and other devices to warn people in the path of a flash flood and avert disaster.
By measuring the radiation emitted by lightning, researchers can pinpoint the most intense thunderstorms, and the resulting rainfall can be located and tracked.
This data has been used to predict both the path of a storm and where heavy rainfall will appear ? crucial predictions, since the impact of flash floods depends on ground topography, slope and vegetation cover.
Looking at real-time lightning data, Tel Aviv University researchers can see where storms will travel over a period of a few hours, and can warn people in the path of the flood of impending danger.
Such a tool will become even more relevant as erratic weather patterns, predicted by climate-change scientists today, become a reality tomorrow.
"This is a tool for the future," said Professor Price. "And it will be even more exciting in the next decade, when we'll have continuous real-time detection of lightning activity from satellites. That data will be used to predict floods anywhere," he added.