(WHNT) — Local researchers at NASA Short-term Prediction Research and Transition and the University of Alabama in Huntsville have been studying lightning and developing products to predict it.

Recently, one of these programs, lightning AI, was used for the first time in operational forecasting for Rock the South.

The lightning AI program was developed to create more lead time on storms that could produce lightning, giving people more time to get to shelter well before storms arrive.

According to Kelly Murphy, one of the researchers who has worked on the AI program at the UAH, the program uses machine learning to be able to predict lightning up to 15 minutes in advance.

Kristopher White, an applications integration meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said the program derives reflectivity and correlation coefficient from the radar to help determine the probability of lightning. The program displays probabilities of lightning occurrence by colored contours on a map.

White explained while the product is still in its beta stages, it was used operationally to aid in forecasting efforts at Rock the South in Cullman to detect the threat of lightning. It has also been used since to aid in airport forecasting, giving aviators advance notice about lightning near the airport.

Currently, the program only works in areas near NASA sites, but the researchers are hopeful the program will be expanded to include other regions soon.

In the future, the hope of researchers is to get the product into the hands of event coordinators, emergency managers and the general public, giving more lead time before thunderstorms ever arrive.