Lightning detection system

Masooda Mahomed with her Lightning Detection system in Swayimane, KZN. Image: Supplied

Lightning detection system: KZN researcher works to protect communities

A lack of lightning detection systems in rural areas has resulted in high fatalities but KZN researcher, Masooda Mahomed, has come to the rescue.

Lightning detection system

Masooda Mahomed with her Lightning Detection system in Swayimane, KZN. Image: Supplied

In a bid to combat lightning-related fatalities in rural areas, a KZN hydrology researcher created a lightning detection system so communities may guard themselves against any hazards.

Dr Masooda Mahomed tested this innovation in the rural community of Swayimane, 32km from Pietermaritzburg, as part of her doctoral studies at UKZN. She embarked on testing the efficacy of this early warning system as statistics show that South Africa has the highest lightning associated death rates in comparison to other countries.


According to Mahomed, the South African Weather Services (SAWS) and the South African Lightning detection network (SALDN) have lightning and warning system measures in place to detect lightning activity on a national level, however, these do not filter down to isolated rural areas timeously.

Her innovation includes an electric field meter and a lightning flash sensor with a siren and beacon light. When lightning is detected, a remote server issues early warning signals via SMS and email to community leaders who in turn alert the community to protect themselves.

The academic set up and tested her early warning system at a high school in Swayimane and simultaneously educated learners, the school governing body and local chiefs on how the system worked.

Now that she concluded her doctoral studies, her lightning system is ready to be fully implemented where it’s needed.

“The vertical atmospheric electric field is measured by a downward-facing Electric Field Meter. A lightning flash sensor receives and processes the optical and radio emissions of lightning discharges within 0 to 32km of the sensor. The NRT-LWS is a total lightning warning system capable of detecting lightning threats and issuing warnings within [warning] categories of eight, 16 and 32km of the study site,” said Mahomed.

The system operates automatically leaving no room for human error. If mobile network failures arise, the sirens and warning lights would alert the community of looming lightning incidents. Implementing a system that has proven to be helpful to the vulnerable rural communities has given Mahomed an immense sense of pride.