A Lightning Parameterization for Numerical Cloud Models

Donald R. MacGorman NOAA/National Severe Storms Laboratory, Norman, Oklahoma

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Jerry M. Straka School of Meteorology and Center for the Analysis and Prediction of Storms, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma

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Conrad L. Ziegler NOAA/National Severe Storms Laboratory, Norman, Oklahoma

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Abstract

A new lightning parameterization has been developed to enable cloud models to simulate the location and structure of individual lightning flashes more realistically. To do this, three aspects of previous parameterizations have been modified: 1) To account for subgrid-scale variations, the initiation point is chosen randomly from among grid points at which the electric field magnitude is above a threshold value, instead of being assigned always to the grid point having the maximum electric field magnitude. 2) The threshold value for initiation can either be constant, as in previous parameterizations, or can vary with height to allow different flash initiation hypotheses to be tested. 3) Instead of stopping at larger ambient electric field magnitudes, extensive flash development can continue in regions having a weak ambient electric field but a substantial charge density. This behavior is based on lightning observations and conceptual models of lightning physics. However, like previous parameterizations for cloud models, the new parameterization attempts to mimic only the gross structure of flashes, not the detailed development of lightning channels, the physics of which is only poorly understood. Though the choice of parameter values affects the dimensions of a flash, the qualitative features of simulated flash structure are similar to those of observed lightning as long as the parameter values are consistent with the larger electric field magnitudes measured in storms and with simulated charge densities produced over reasonably large regions. Initial simulations show that, by permitting development of flashes in regions of substantial charge density and weak ambient electric field, the new parameterization produces flash structure much like that of observed flashes, as would be expected from the inferred correlation between observed horizontal lightning structure and thunderstorm charge.

Corresponding author address: Donald R. MacGorman, Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies, University of Oklahoma, 100 E. Boyd, Room 1110, Norman, OK 73019-0628.

don.macgorman@nssl.noaa.gov

Abstract

A new lightning parameterization has been developed to enable cloud models to simulate the location and structure of individual lightning flashes more realistically. To do this, three aspects of previous parameterizations have been modified: 1) To account for subgrid-scale variations, the initiation point is chosen randomly from among grid points at which the electric field magnitude is above a threshold value, instead of being assigned always to the grid point having the maximum electric field magnitude. 2) The threshold value for initiation can either be constant, as in previous parameterizations, or can vary with height to allow different flash initiation hypotheses to be tested. 3) Instead of stopping at larger ambient electric field magnitudes, extensive flash development can continue in regions having a weak ambient electric field but a substantial charge density. This behavior is based on lightning observations and conceptual models of lightning physics. However, like previous parameterizations for cloud models, the new parameterization attempts to mimic only the gross structure of flashes, not the detailed development of lightning channels, the physics of which is only poorly understood. Though the choice of parameter values affects the dimensions of a flash, the qualitative features of simulated flash structure are similar to those of observed lightning as long as the parameter values are consistent with the larger electric field magnitudes measured in storms and with simulated charge densities produced over reasonably large regions. Initial simulations show that, by permitting development of flashes in regions of substantial charge density and weak ambient electric field, the new parameterization produces flash structure much like that of observed flashes, as would be expected from the inferred correlation between observed horizontal lightning structure and thunderstorm charge.

Corresponding author address: Donald R. MacGorman, Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies, University of Oklahoma, 100 E. Boyd, Room 1110, Norman, OK 73019-0628.

don.macgorman@nssl.noaa.gov

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