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Lightning records jolt previous understanding

World Meteorological Organization confirms 200-mile bolt and 8-second streak.
September 20, 2016

ASU researcher catalogs marks for distance and duration, says classifications come thanks to new technology

It turns out lightning isn’t always a flash, and an ASU researcher says a pair of newly classified records for distance and duration reshaping our views of the electric weather phenomena might be just the beginning.

The World Meteorological Organization has recently confirmed that a bolt over Oklahoma in 2007 covered a horizontal distance of nearly 200 miles (321 km), and a streak over southern France in 2012 lasted for nearly 8 seconds.

Arizona State University professor Randy Cerveny credits “huge strides in the detection and monitoring of lightning events.”

“Our weather technology,” said Cerveny, chief rapporteur of climate and weather extremes for the WMO and instructor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, “particularly with regard to lightning, has advanced rapidly in the last few years to now allow us to detect and measure lightning events that we previously had not been able to monitor and evaluate.”

Cerveny said this is the first time lightning has been included in the official WMO extreme weather and climate archive, which is maintained by the organization’s Commission for Climatology and documents details of records for heat, cold, wind speed, rainfall and other related events.

Full details of the lightning assessments are given in the online issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, published Sept. 15.

The WMO evaluation committee judged that the world’s longest detected distance for a single lightning bolt occurred over a horizontal distance of 199.5 miles. The event occurred on June 20, 2007, stretching from near Tulsa to near the Texas border.

The committee also accepted the world’s longest detected duration for a single shock as a lightning event that lasted continuously for 7.74 seconds on Aug. 30, 2012, over Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, France.

Cerveny said researchers gathered their data from networks of sensors that monitor electromagnetic radiation triggered by lightning discharges.

“The bursts are similar to the static you hear on an AM radio,” he said. “We can detect the static and its intensity. And through triangulation, we to find where the strike began and where it ended.”

Cerveny said that with new technologies, weather researchers are entering a new phase in lightning detection and understanding.

“This is the first study to address issues of lightning,” Cerveny said. “Over the next couple of decades I think we will see this field really take off.”

He also said the findings highlight the importance of safety.

“These extremes point out the need for everybody to be very aware when lightning occurs,” he said.

“Lightning can strike far from where a storm is, so this research re-emphasizes the old safety advice that ‘when thunder roars, go indoors.’”

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Building community through shared experience

ASU Summer Community Read event to feature 'Ready Player One' author.
ASU West campus fosters community through shared experience of reading.
September 20, 2016

Community Read event at ASU West campus to feature 'Ready Player One' author Cline

Fans of 1980s trivia, video games and geek culture rejoiced when it was announced Steven Spielberg would be taking Ernest Cline’s 2011 beloved dystopian novel, “Ready Player One,” to the big screen.

Belying its obscure references, the underlying narrative probes universal themes. 

“This book explores societal and ethical questions, and provides an easy and safe way to discuss challenging topics like poverty, power, diversity, acceptance, growth, independence and interdependence,” said Anne Suzuki, assistant dean of enrollment services at ASU’s West campus.

Suzuki oversees the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences’ annual Summer Community Read, which brings together ASU students, faculty and staff with members of the local community to participate in the shared experience of reading and reflecting on a novel, culminating with an on-campus talk by the author.

This year, Cline (pictured above) will deliver a keynote presentation at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 22,  in the La Sala Ballroom on the West campus. A book signing will follow at 7:30 p.m.

“Since the event is open to the public, and we’ve made an intentional effort to involve the local comic bookstores, Glendale public libraries and other community members, it gives the students an opportunity to interact with ASU folks and their local community members,” Suzuki added.

The program is geared toward incoming freshmen and transfer students as a way to welcome them into the New College experience. West campus student government purchases the books for them, which they receive at orientation. Throughout the summer as they read, they have discussions about the book via social media with West campus peer mentors.

Students are also required to craft a response to the book, which can be in the form of digital or hand-drawn artwork, video, song, dance, poetry or even photography.

“We wanted to enhance the students’ experience so that they were doing more than just reading the book and answering questions,” said Jenna Graham, transition and retention specialist for Student Success at West campus. Graham has led the committee that selects the Summer Community Read book for three years.

“It’s amazing what students have turned in this year,” she said. “One student turned in a video of herself dancing blindfolded, which is related to what goes on in book.”

When Cline gives his presentation Sept. 22, there will be time for students to share their responses with him.

But the focus will be on fostering a sense of community among those present.

“We have made some wonderful connections with the local community because of the Summer Community Read program,” said Suzuki, “and we hope that the community members feel welcome on our campus and feel ASU is supporting the surrounding areas.”

Top photo: "Ready Player One" author Ernest Cline with a DeLorean, image courtesy Dave Hunt, ASU West campus marketing.