Just in: Incredible space images from GOES-16 lightning mapper

A revolutionary weather satellite launched in November is sending back its first images from new technology that can see lightning from orbit.

The first of its kind instrument is the first lightning detector in geostationary orbit and will help forecasters identify severe weather more quickly.

Called the Geostationary Lightning Mapper, or GLM, the technology is on the GOES-16 satellite.

“The mapper continually looks for lightning flashes in the Western Hemisphere, so forecasters know when a storm is forming, intensifying and becoming more dangerous,” a press release says. “Rapid increases of lightning are a signal that a storm is strengthening quickly and could produce severe weather.”

Check The Palm Beach Post radar map.

Lightning strikes south of Belvedere Road near I-95 in West Palm Beach on July 9, 2009. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)

Related: GOES-R satellite to revolutionize weather forecasting

It’s especially important to Florida, where more people are struck and killed by lightning each year than any other state.  Between 2006 and 2015, 47 people were killed in Florida by lightning. That’s more than twice the deaths of runner-up state Texas, which saw 20 people killed by lighting during the same time period.

Last year, 9 people were killed by lightning in Florida. The next highest number of deaths were 4 in both Louisiana and New York.

Florida is the thunderstorm capital of the United States, according to the Florida Climate Center.

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In a slice of the state that includes Palm Beach County, an average of 80 days per year include thunderstorm activity.

A region in the center of the state west of Lake Okeechobee has the highest number of thunderstorm days at 100 — a tally that the climate center likens to areas of the world that max out on thunderstorms, such as the Lake Victoria region of equatorial Africa and the middle of the Amazon basin.

But it’s not just thunderstorms that the GLM will help forecasters with.

Nascent research shows an increase of lightning in hurricanes can mean they are intensifying.

As 2004’s Hurricane Charley gorged on the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, moisture droplets in its thunderstorms rode raging updrafts high into the atmosphere, freezing and colliding and sparking electricity — lightning.

The potent storm caught forecasters off guard, rapidly intensifying to a 150 mph Category 4 storm just before plowing into Florida’s west coast at maximum strength.

The lightning mapper is just one tool on GOES-16, formerly GOES-R.

“It’s a game-changer for protecting lives,” said Joe Pica, director of the National Weather Service’s Office of Observations. “We will be able to watch where a storm is intensifying and decaying, and where the weather is going to be dangerous.”

The satellite also includes a Solar Ultraviolet Imager that recently captured the images below.

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