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I am a fire investigator and investigating a structure fire that occurred tonight. Witnesses tell me that a storm was in the area with lightning. If I had coordinates is there a way to determine if this was a lightning strike?

Posted July 14, 2007

Also pertains to this question from Christopher - "Is there a way to pinpoint where a lightning bolt recently struck? It was near my home and I know the approximate time - is there a database or something of groundstrikes?"

MIKE MOSS SAYS:    Brent and Christopher,    Lightning detection and archived lightning data/coordinates were made a private rather than governmental function of the overall weather infrastructure of the country. There are two companies that maintain detection networks. So far only one can search records for observed lightning strikes, although the other says on their web site that such forensic services will be available "very soon." Do note that there is a substantial fee to undertake a search - last time I checked several years back, it was about $95 to initiate a simple search. At the time, there was only one provider of this information, so I'm not certain if the price has increased, or decreased due to potential competition, since that time.

Here are the home web pages for the two companies in question. You can send inquiries to them to inquire about the fees involved so that you can determine whether it is worthwhile for your purposes to pursue a data query. Do keep in mind that while modern detection networks are quite reliable and accurate, something on the order of 5-10% of all strikes are thought to go undetected.

The original lightning detection network, with an extensive archive that can be searched for past strikes, is now owned and operated by a company called Vaisala. For contact info, see


You may also want to check back for forensics availability at the other lightning detection firm in case that service is offered soon. See


Note that you could also retrieve archived radar imagery to see if there were intense radar echoes in the vicinity of the possible strike locations at the time you are interested in. You can't be certain based on radar whether lightning is being produced by a given cell, but the presence of strong radar reflectivity in the area adds circumstantial evidence that lightning was a good possibility. Here are a couple of radar archive sites (note Raleigh radar code is RAX):







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