As Hurricane Irene approaches the D.C. area, a Montgomery County company is using lightning to track the storm in a new way.
Mark Hoekzema, chief meteorologist for Earth Networks in Germantown, says his company's update sensor system will allow them to look at lightning in a way that has never been done.
Lightning may not seem like a major part of a hurricane, but Hoekzema explains that it is a major indicator of how strong a storm is. The new sensors give their Weatherbug service a better view of lightning than they have ever had.
"It can see lightning in the cloud, as well as lightning on the ground," Hoekzema says.
Hoekzema believes this will allow them to improve their weather forecasts and provide valuable information on the strength of the storms.
"Intensity is one of the toughest things to forecast," he says. "It changes over time. There have been major impacts from storms that have intensified rapidly as they approached the coast. Coming in as a Category 2, Opal changed into a Category 5 just overnight."
Hurricane Opal made landfall on the Gulf Coast in 1995 as a Category 4 storm, killing at least 13 people in the U.S and causing almost $4 billion in damages.