How to Choose Best Lightning Detector


Every year many lives are lost due to lightning hazards. Lightning is unstoppable, but some advanced planning can mitigate hazards caused due to lightning. With the modern technology, it's now possible to predict lightning, and lightning detectors can be a life saver. A lighting detector will act as a warning system and alert you to shut down all dangerous operations before the lightning strikes. The detector can also give you all-clear signal when the hazard threat has passed. If you are planning to purchase a lightning detector, first you must understand the device. These devices are quite complex, but once you have proper knowledge then you can choose the right unit.


Generally, there are three types of lightning detectors;

Ground- based Lightning Detectors

Ground-based lightning detection system uses multiple antennas to detect lightning. This system uses radio direction-finding process to measure the severity and direction of the lightning from a particular location. Triangulation from multiple locations is used by the ground-based system in order to determine the distance. This lightning detection system is used by many large meteorological organizations like NWS, Meteorological service of Canada and many more organizations like forest fire services and electrical utility services.

A ground-based lightning detector generally has at least three antennas to locate a flash accurately up to an extent, which often leads to rejection of cloud-to-cloud lightning.

Mobile Lightning Detectors

Mobile lightning detector uses a direction and a sense antenna. Just like ground-based system, this lightning detection system also detects lightning by using radio direction-finding process to measure the severity and direction of the lightning from a particular location. However, mobile detection system uses signal frequency and attenuation to calculate the distance. This system is mostly used in aircraft.

As mobile lightning detection systems use attenuation and not triangulation, sometimes they mistakenly recognize and indicate a weak flash as a strong one.

Space-based Lightning Detectors

Space-based lightning detectors are fixed on artificial satellites. This type of lightning detectors can locate distance, intensities, and bearing by direct observation.

Space-based system doesn't have any disadvantage as ground based or mobile based systems. However, by the time the information provided by space-based lightning detectors become available widely, the data is already several minutes old. So, space-based lightning detectors are not meant for real-time application like air navigation.

Factors to Consider for Choosing a Lightning Detector

If you are planning to purchase a good lightning detector for home or personal use then you must either go for a good personal lightning detector or a professional-quality portable detector. Lightning detectors come in various shape, size and design, with numerous choices of technology and features, which can literally confuse a buyer. I have made a list of important factors that you must consider if you want to buy the right lightning detector;

1. Type:

Portable lightning detectors are usually of two types, so you must first decide which type of unit will best suit your need;

- Personal Lightning Detector: Personal lightning detectors usually run on batteries. They come in a size similar to a pager. This type of lightning detector is popular among campers, golfers, law enforcement, and many other who recreate or work outdoors. A personal lightning detector works by detecting the electromagnetic pulse that is emitted by the lightning strike. The device can indicate the distance of the strike by measuring the detected EMP strength.

There are a few disadvantages of personal lightning detectors. They cannot provide the actual location of the strike or the direction from where the lightning is approaching. Also, as standard personal lightning detectors function by detecting the EMP, interference from other EMP-emitting units such as fluorescent lights, car engines, electronic units, etc. can at times result in false lightning alerts. If you are going to use the device indoors, then this interference could be a nuisance.

- Professional-quality portable Lightning Detector: The professional-quality devices offer improved performance. They are also as portable as standard personal lightning detectors, but they come with enhanced functionalities such as elimination of false signal, enhanced sensitivity, improved Intracloud lightning detection, early warning, storm tracking, Tornado prediction and many more advanced features.

As the professional-quality devices are designed more advanced, with high-quality technology, they are much more expensive than the standard ones.

2. Technology

You would want to consider the technology that your device may have. Given below is a list of the most common technologies available in the current-day lightning detectors;

- Radio Frequency Detectors: The RF or Radio Frequency detectors measure the energy discharged by lightning. These devices can determine the approximate direction and distance of the threat.

- Inferometers: These devices are multi-station units. Usually, they are more complex than RF detectors and require high skilled operator. Inferometers measure the lightning strike data more accurately and so these are mostly used for research purposes. They are also more expensive than RF detectors.

- Electric Field Mills: These devices are pre-lightning units that measure the potential voltage changes in the elect field of earth and report changes. The range of these units is very less, which is only around 5 to 8 km.

- Optical Monitors: These lightning detectors provide early warning as they can sense cloud-to-cloud lightning which occurs before cloud-to-ground.

- Hybrid Designs: The hybrid units use a combination of single technologies such as light, or RF, or magnetic pulse to detect the lightning. These units can be much better as they use multi technologies.

3. Range

The distance that the lightning detector can cover and up to how much range the device can detect is another very important factor. Some low-end personal lightning detectors do not provide the distance of the lightning strike, so you won't possibly know when it's going to strike at your location. If you are residing at a storm-prone location, then you might want to go for a unit that provides distance.

In case a severe threat is heading then you must have maximum time to take all the possible precautions. A good lightning detector will have a range of more than 20 miles. With higher range, if the distance increases or decreases over time, you'll know when the storm is heading towards you and you can relax if it's retracting.

4. Alert

A good alert system is a very important feature in a lightning detector. It’s no use owning a detector which is not able to warn you when a severe threat is heading towards you. A unit with audible alarm is what you must look for if you are really in need of a lightning detector that you can fully rely on.

There are many units that also come with LED flash in case you have to put the detector in silent mode, so that no matter wherever you are, you'll get the alert. Also, the lightning detector must have a false signal eliminator so that the unit doesn't provide any false alarm.

5. Design and Durability

Lightning detectors are a complex device, and understanding and operating some units can be quite complicated. There are many models that come with easy use interface for user convenience. A lightning detector with ergonomic design is an ideal choice if you are going to use the device outdoors. Choose a unit that has user-friendly features such as no-slip clip, understandable buttons, etc. Size also matters if the device is for outdoor purpose. A pocket-sized unit will be a perfect choice.

Speaking about outdoor use, the unit will be exposed to various weather elements. A device must have strong and rugged construction if it's for rough use. For best durability, choose a unit that is weather proof or water resistant.

6. Cost and Warranty

Before going for the purchase, first, you must know your budget. Once you are aware how much you can invest on the lightning detector, you can look for the best and most suitable one in that budget. Lightning detectors widely vary in complexity as well as cost, from most advanced, dedicated and expensive ones available in as high as $15000 to inexpensive weather radios of 20$ to 30$. A good Lightning detector is available in any range; it's up to your liable preferences. Always choose according to your purpose and requirement.

All reputed lightning detector manufacturers offer some warranty with their product to secure the customers' investment. This way you can completely rely on the device to some extent in the long run. Warranty is a very important factor, so select a unit with a good warranty policy.

7. Other Features

Apart from all the factors mentioned above, you might also want to consider a few more features in your lightning detector;

- Backlit Option: If you are going to use the detector outdoors, you would like to choose a unit with outdoor indoor operation modes. Storm doesn't always hit in broad daylight, so a device with momentary backlight option will let you access the screen even in low-light conditions.

- Power Consumption: As portable lightning, detectors run on batteries, purchasing batteries will be a lifetime cost. If you are going to use the device more often, then select a unit that has low power consumption feature, in order to reduce your lifetime expenses.

- PC Connect Feature: Detectors with PC connect feature can be connected to your personal computer for data analysis. If you are a diehard storm enthusiast or a researcher, you might want to consider this feature.


Lightning detectors can be life saver during extreme situations. If you are warned about certain threat, you can prepare yourself with confidence. These devices are quite complicated, so buying one can be a difficult task for a novice. However, if you know exactly what you require, and consider all the possible factors then you can choose the right detector like a pro. A thorough research and wise choice could save you from wasting money on a wrong product. If you have more doubts, also go through the reviews provided by experienced customers.