Record of Decision approved for Optical Lightning Detection System and the Lightning Map Array at Pantex

  • Posted: Friday, October 6, 2017, 2:37 pm

AMARILLO, Texas – Lightning is prevalent in the Texas Panhandle, and the lightning equipment used at Pantex produces meteorological data that are useful to many outside of the plant. In late August, Pantex began issuing meteorological lightning data to the National Weather Service and the public. This will allow Consolidated Nuclear Security, the managing and operating contractor, to provide additional capabilities and data to the National Weather Service and the greater Amarillo area.

Current lightning detection and location systems triangulate radio frequency signatures from lightning strikes using time of arrival mapping techniques. Due to inherent variability in the positional data obtained from these systems, a more definitive lightning location system utilizing visual data to confirm strikes is necessary.

A team of engineers and scientists from Pantex Systems Engineering designed a system that utilizes lightning capture cameras to detect and locate lightning strikes on or near Pantex, referred to as the Optical Lightning Detection System (OLDS). Six units will sit near the perimeter of Pantex, and images from these cameras will be downloaded through a cellular network for processing to determine the strike location if it occurs on-site.

Combined with the Lightning Map Array (LMA), which can detect cloud-to-cloud or inter-cloud strikes that usually preceded cloud-to-ground strikes by up to an hour, the system is vital to determining lightning patterns in and around the plant. This is important to Pantex given the prevalence of lightning in the Texas Panhandle and the criticality of the work performed at the Pantex Plant. (See Pantex Plant upgrades lightning sensors for more information.)

David Hattz and members of his Pantex Electromagnetics Group review the lightning data, including many photographs, and can map where lightning strikes occur and detect pre-strike activity. “It’s important we have this type of equipment given the criticality of the work we do. The LMA system detects the first inner-cloud strikes allowing us to notify employees up to an hour sooner when lightning is approaching the Pantex Plant,” Hattz said.

Since local law enforcement and meteorologists use the data produced by the lightning equipment as well, the group pursued getting the Record of Decision. In June, a local sheriff’s office called upon Pantex for help provide lightning data in and around the Blue Sky Airfield.

Pantex Engineer Wayne Blodgett said, “We found there were cloud to ground strikes in the airfield area, and we were able to provide data that shows the strikes and the time of the strikes. Requests like these are what makes having the Record of Decision in place easier. We are able to get the data to the requester sooner so they can use the information for their needs. Getting this exception to the review requirement allows us to provide data to the National Weather Service quickly. Our equipment is useful to many in the Amarillo area.”

The next phase of the development will give the system onboard computing and communications in the remote stations. The stations will process pictures in the field and send data on only cloud-to-ground strikes to a central server. The server will collect data from the remote stations and triangulate lightning strike locations in near real-time.


Consolidated Nuclear Security, LLC (CNS) operates the Pantex Plant, located in Amarillo, Texas, and the Y-12 National Security Complex, located in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, under a single contract for the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration. Pantex and Y-12 are key facilities in the U.S. Nuclear Security Enterprise, and CNS performs its work with a focus on the performance excellence and the imperatives of safety, security, zero defects and delivery as promised.

For more information on each site, visit or Follow Pantex on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. Follow Y-12 on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr.