The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Monday released the first images from a new weather satellite showing what lightning storms look like from space.
In the United States alone, lightning strikes an average of 25 million times a year, according to NOAA.
One of those strikes last week in St. Louis left a lot of people in awe of nature.
Jim Probst went out to walk his dog early Wednesday morning when he saw smoke coming from Sts. Peter & Paul Cemetery near his home, reports The Riverfront Times.
In the cemetery he found a strange sight: a tree burning from the inside out, a gaping wound at its base glowing red like fiery, hot coals.
The Times dubbed it the “gates to hell” and said it looked like the tree gate in the Netflix hit “Stranger Things” that transports people into another, dangerous dimension.
“What I noticed immediately, walking up to the tree, was all the bark that was everywhere. It was as if the tree had exploded,” said Probst, who had heard lightning about four hours earlier.
“It was like stoked coals. It was smoldering, felt like a big campfire. By my own observation, I assumed that a large part of the hole hadn’t necessarily been blown out but had been cooking since two in the morning.”
Probst filmed the burning tree on his cell phone and posted it on his neighborhood’s Facebook page, where it has attracted scores of views and wound up on websites around the world.
Lightning is a bane for weather forecasters. It kills an average of 49 people in the United States every year, according to NOAA, which says its new Geostationary Lightning Mapper will provide weather forecasters with data and images they’ve never had before.
The first image taken by the detector on board the GOES-16 satellite showed lightning flashes over the course of an hour on Feb. 14 in an area spanning from the Gulf of Mexico to the southern coast of South America, according to NPR.
NOAA also released a video showing images of lightning storms that developed that same day over southeast Texas. The storm system spawned tornadoes that destroyed homes near Houston.
NOAA hopes the information will help forecasters more accurately predict severe and dangerous weather, including tornadoes.
During heavy rain, data from the satellite will show when thunderstorms are stalled or whether they are gathering strength, NOAA said in its announcement.
It’s “a quantum leap in forecasting severe weather such as tornadoes,” engineer Tim Gasparrini of Lockheed Martin, which designed and built the instrument, told USA Today.
The detector can take 500 images a second, he said, and is constantly scanning the skies above the Western Hemisphere for lightning flashes.
In dry areas prone to wildfires, especially the western United States, information like that could potentially help forecasters and firefighters see what areas are at danger for fires sparked by lightning, NOAA said.
The GOES-16 satellite, as big as a school bus, was launched in December 2016, a collaboration between NOAA and NASA. It hovers in the same spot above earth and moves as the earth rotates. It is still in a testing phase, according to NPR, and is expected to provide images of weather patterns and several storms every 30 seconds when it is fully operational.
NOAA hopes that will happen in November, after which a similar satellite is expected to go into operation a few months later.