The new "Geostationary Lightning Mapper" can detect both cloud-to-ground and cloud-to-cloud lightning strikes as well as all lightning over the oceans.
Rapid increases of lightning signal that a storm is strengthening quickly and could produce severe weather, NOAA said. In the image, brighter colors indicate more lightning energy (or more kilowatt-hours of total optical emissions) recorded.
Combining the forces of two GOES-16 instruments, the Advanced Baseline Imager, or ABI, for cloud imaging and the never-before used lightning mapper - forecasters will be able alert people of developing threats.
Constantly watching for lightning in the Western Hemisphere, the GLM takes hundreds of images each second.
Detecting and predicting lightning just got a lot easier.
The first images from the GLM reveal lightning flashes from the Gulf of Mexico to the southern coast of South America.More news: White House defends Pence's use of private email while governor
The GLM can also show when thunderstorms stall or when they're becoming stronger.
The lightning mapper is another useful tool, which in combination with other weather data, forecasters can use to provide life-saving information to the public such as issuing warnings quicker.
Moreover, accurate tracking of lightning and thunderstorms over the oceans, too distant for land-based radar and sometimes hard to see with satellites, will support safe navigation for aviators and mariners. In dry parts of the USA, the satellite can help forecasters and firefighters identify places prone to wildfires if struck by lightning.
NOAA launched the satellite in November, and it has been sending back images clearer than any previous NOAA satellite. The ability to monitor in-cloud lightning is important because it often precedes cloud-to-ground strikes by 5-10 minutes, giving meteorologists the ability to alert of the danger in advance, NOAA reports.
The GLM is operating aboard the GOES-16 satellite, which observes Earth from roughly 23,000 miles above the surface.
"For weather forecasters, GOES-R will be similar to going from a black-and-white TV to super-high-definition TV", said Stephen Volz, assistant administrator for NOAA's Satellite and Information Services division, using another name for the satellite.