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Diurnal Lightning Variability over the Maritime Continent: Impact of Low-Level Winds, Cloudiness, and the MJO

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  • 1 Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington
  • | 2 Department of Earth and Space Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington
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Abstract

Lightning over the Maritime Continent exhibits a pronounced diurnal cycle. Daytime and evening lightning occurs near coastlines and over mountain slopes, driven by sea and valley breezes. Nocturnal and morning thunderstorms are touched off where land breezes or mountain breezes converge or by gravity waves propagating away from regions of vigorous afternoon convection. In this study, the modulation of the diurnal cycle of lightning and precipitation by 850-hPa winds, cloudiness, and the Madden–Julian oscillation (MJO) is investigated using observations from the World Wide Lightning Location Network (WWLLN) and the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite. The 850-hPa wind speed and area-averaged cloudiness are shown to be negatively correlated with day-to-day lightning frequency over land, and thunderstorm occurrence is suppressed windward of, and enhanced leeward of, mountain ranges. Lightning and environmental conditions are similarly related in the MJO. During break periods, the regular diurnal cycle of lightning is enhanced where ambient low-level winds are easterly but abnormally weak—in the Strait of Malacca, over western and southern Borneo and the adjacent seas, and in the region of nocturnal thunderstorms to the west of Sumatra and Java. When the active, cloudy phase of the MJO, accompanied by low-level westerly winds, passes over the Maritime Continent, the regular diurnal cycle of lightning is enhanced leeward (to the east) of the mountains of Java, Borneo, and the Malay Peninsula. The spatial patterns of lightning and rainfall anomalies are broadly similar, but lightning anomalies tend to be more concentrated near coastlines.

Corresponding author address: Katrina Virts, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, 408 ATG Bldg., Box 351640, Seattle, WA 98195-1640. E-mail: kvirts@uw.edu

Abstract

Lightning over the Maritime Continent exhibits a pronounced diurnal cycle. Daytime and evening lightning occurs near coastlines and over mountain slopes, driven by sea and valley breezes. Nocturnal and morning thunderstorms are touched off where land breezes or mountain breezes converge or by gravity waves propagating away from regions of vigorous afternoon convection. In this study, the modulation of the diurnal cycle of lightning and precipitation by 850-hPa winds, cloudiness, and the Madden–Julian oscillation (MJO) is investigated using observations from the World Wide Lightning Location Network (WWLLN) and the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite. The 850-hPa wind speed and area-averaged cloudiness are shown to be negatively correlated with day-to-day lightning frequency over land, and thunderstorm occurrence is suppressed windward of, and enhanced leeward of, mountain ranges. Lightning and environmental conditions are similarly related in the MJO. During break periods, the regular diurnal cycle of lightning is enhanced where ambient low-level winds are easterly but abnormally weak—in the Strait of Malacca, over western and southern Borneo and the adjacent seas, and in the region of nocturnal thunderstorms to the west of Sumatra and Java. When the active, cloudy phase of the MJO, accompanied by low-level westerly winds, passes over the Maritime Continent, the regular diurnal cycle of lightning is enhanced leeward (to the east) of the mountains of Java, Borneo, and the Malay Peninsula. The spatial patterns of lightning and rainfall anomalies are broadly similar, but lightning anomalies tend to be more concentrated near coastlines.

Corresponding author address: Katrina Virts, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, 408 ATG Bldg., Box 351640, Seattle, WA 98195-1640. E-mail: kvirts@uw.edu
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