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  • Colorado weather-tech company develops solution to detect the most destructive lightning strikes

    A global weather-tech company with its U.S. headquarters in Louisville has developed technology that allows its clients, from utilities to wind farm operators, to detect the most destructive lightning strikes after a storm.

    Vaisala, which is based in Finland, but has a team of more than 150 employees in Colorado, is ready to launch new technology that it has been working on for the past year that can detect continuous current lightning, which can last up to 1000 times longer than a typical strike.

    The company developed lightning detection technology nearly three decades ago as part of its National Lightning Detection Network and Global Lightning Dataset, but this latest add-on, developed by a team of scientists in Colorado, pinpoints the strikes that cause the most damage — a critical component that can save time when evaluating storm damage, said Brooke Pearson, a business development manager for the company.

    Wind farm operators, for instance, could be responsible for hundreds of wind turbines on a single farm. So, when a storm rolls through, the operator is dealing with hundreds of possible lightning strikes.

    “Given the sensitivity of the operation — you need to be performing and producing power — you’re going to want to prioritize which of those turbines you want to check to see if there’s any damage,” Pearson said. “Being able to identify the strikes that are most likely to cause damage helps immensely.”

    The patent-pending technology uses a combination of data from Vaisala’s existing lightning detection networks and satellite data launched by NOAA and NASA in 2016. An overhead view of Earth allows scientists to track lightning over a vast area. Vaisala’s lightning detection is primarily ground-based, Pearson said.

    “The secret sauce is putting those two sets of data together with some very clever algorithms that can detect with great precision the strikes that have continuing current,” he said. “It’s a game-changer for lightning detection.”

    Continuous current lightning strikes are rare, making up only about 5 percent to 10 percent of all lightning strikes. And while they last 1,000 times longer, the continuous strike is still visibly quick at about one or two tenths of a second — still drastically longer than average strikes that are measured in microseconds.

    The company plans to release the new technology in the first half of 2019. Its lightning detection networks is sold as a subscription service and the continuous current detection would be an add-on to that service, Pearson said.

    The company, which provides monitoring detection solutions for all sorts of weather, did about $375.3 million in revenue in 2017, Pearson said.

    For 2019, the company is also gearing up for a big move into a new building on the land they own in Louisville. The new, 30,000-square-foot building can accommodate its more than 150 employees and features plenty of natural light. Construction is slated to be completed by the end of 2019.

    It’s also working on technology for autonomous vehicles to better detect weather on the roads, company officials said.