The U.S. national lightning detection network™ and applications of cloud-to-ground lightning data by electric power utilities

Kenneth L. Cummins, E. Philip Krider, Mark D. Malone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

242 Scopus citations


Lightning is a significant cause of interruptions or damage in almost every electrical or electronic system that is exposed to thunderstorms. The problem is particularly severe for electric power utilities that have exposed assets covering large areas. Here, we summarize the basic properties of cloud-to-ground (CG) lightning, the primary hazard to structures on the ground, and then we discuss methods of detecting and locating such discharges. We describe the U.S. National Lightning Detection Network™ (NLDN), a system that senses the electromagnetic fields that are radiated by individual return strokes in CG flashes. This network provides data on the time of such strokes, their location and polarity and an estimate of the peak current. We discuss the network detection efficiency and location accuracy and some of the limitations that are inherent in any detection system that operates with a finite number of sensors with fixed trigger thresholds. We also discuss how NLDN data have benefited utilities by providing lightning warnings in real time and information on whether CG strokes are the cause of faults, documenting the response of fixed assets that are exposed to lightning, and quantifying the effectiveness of lightning protection systems. We conclude with some general observations on the use of lightning data by power utilities and we provide some guidelines on the uncertainties in lightning parameters that are acceptable in the industry.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)465-480
Number of pages16
JournalIEEE Transactions on Electromagnetic Compatibility
Issue number4 PART 2
StatePublished - 1998
Externally publishedYes


  • Fault diagnosis
  • Fault location
  • Lightning
  • Lightning detection
  • Power system lightning efects
  • Remote sensing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atomic and Molecular Physics, and Optics
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


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