SEATTLE – Two University of Washington scientists have found a way to use lightning to help create more accurate forecasts.

"After we brought in the lightning data, and started the forecast model with that information, we had a much better forecast," said Cliff Mass, UW professor of atmospheric science meteorologist.

Those forecasts involved several major lightning storm events using the World Wide Lightning Location Network (WWLLN) housed at the university.

Lightning is created when ice particles rush past each other. The lightning, Mass says, isn't just a dangerous show, but is now harnessed for the information that it tells him about the status of the atmosphere.

"If we can better describe what the atmosphere is like at a particular time, we can forecast better," Mass said.

Now WWLLN is about to get a complimentary tool from the new GOES-R high-resolution weather satellite launched on Saturday, November 19. GOES-R has an optical geostationary lightning mapper.

"The community's been asking for this for over two decades," said Dr. Robert Holzworth, a UW lightning expert, who runs WWLLN.

Holzworth says between WWLLN and GOES-R, the lightning picture is much more complete knowing what's going on above, below and between clouds.

"Our understanding of the absolute lightning rates will be better," said Holzworth.

The National Weather Service is now using lightning data in its forecasts.