On the Surface-Convection Feedback during Drought Periods on the Canadian Prairies

Julian C. Brimelow Centre for Earth Observation Science, Department of Environment and Geography, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

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John M. Hanesiak Centre for Earth Observation Science, Department of Environment and Geography, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

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William R. Burrows Cloud Physics and Severe Weather Research Section and Hydrometeorology and Arctic Lab, Meteorological Research Division, Science and Technology Branch, Environment Canada, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

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Abstract

Linkages between the terrestrial ecosystem and precipitation play a critical role in regulating regional weather and climate. These linkages can manifest themselves as positive or negative feedback loops, which may either favor or inhibit the triggering and intensity of thunderstorms. Although the Canadian Prairies terrestrial system has been identified as having the potential to exert a detectable influence on convective precipitation during the warm season, little work has been done in this area using in situ observations.

The authors present findings from a novel study designed to explore linkages between the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) and lightning duration (DUR) from the Canadian Lightning Detection Network for 38 census agricultural regions (CARs) on the Canadian Prairies. Statistics Canada divides the prairie agricultural zone into CARs (polygons of varying size and shape) for the purpose of calculating agricultural statistics. Here, DUR is used as a proxy for thunderstorm activity. Statistical analyses were undertaken for 38 CARs for summers [June–August (JJA)] between 1999 and 2008. Specifically, coefficients of determination were calculated between pairs of standardized anomalies of DUR and NDVI by season and by month. Correlations were also calculated for CARs grouped by size and/or magnitude of the NDVI anomalies.

The main findings are as follows: 1) JJA lightning activity is overwhelmingly below average within larger dry areas (i.e., areas with below-average NDVI); that is, the linkages between NDVI and DUR increased significantly as both the area and magnitude of the dry anomaly increased. 2) In contrast, CARs with above-average NDVI did not consistently experience above-average lightning activity, regardless of the CAR size. 3) The lower threshold for the length scale of the dry anomalies required to affect the boundary layer sufficiently to reduce lightning activity was found to be approximately 150 km (~18 000 km2). 4) The authors’ analysis suggests that the surface-convection feedback appears to be a real phenomenon, in which drought tends to perpetuate drought with respect to convective storms and associated rainfall, within the limits found in 1) and 3).

Corresponding author address: John M. Hanesiak, Centre for Earth Observation Science, Department of Environment and Geography, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg MB R3T 2N2, Canada. E-mail address: john_hanesiak@umanitoba.ca

Abstract

Linkages between the terrestrial ecosystem and precipitation play a critical role in regulating regional weather and climate. These linkages can manifest themselves as positive or negative feedback loops, which may either favor or inhibit the triggering and intensity of thunderstorms. Although the Canadian Prairies terrestrial system has been identified as having the potential to exert a detectable influence on convective precipitation during the warm season, little work has been done in this area using in situ observations.

The authors present findings from a novel study designed to explore linkages between the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) and lightning duration (DUR) from the Canadian Lightning Detection Network for 38 census agricultural regions (CARs) on the Canadian Prairies. Statistics Canada divides the prairie agricultural zone into CARs (polygons of varying size and shape) for the purpose of calculating agricultural statistics. Here, DUR is used as a proxy for thunderstorm activity. Statistical analyses were undertaken for 38 CARs for summers [June–August (JJA)] between 1999 and 2008. Specifically, coefficients of determination were calculated between pairs of standardized anomalies of DUR and NDVI by season and by month. Correlations were also calculated for CARs grouped by size and/or magnitude of the NDVI anomalies.

The main findings are as follows: 1) JJA lightning activity is overwhelmingly below average within larger dry areas (i.e., areas with below-average NDVI); that is, the linkages between NDVI and DUR increased significantly as both the area and magnitude of the dry anomaly increased. 2) In contrast, CARs with above-average NDVI did not consistently experience above-average lightning activity, regardless of the CAR size. 3) The lower threshold for the length scale of the dry anomalies required to affect the boundary layer sufficiently to reduce lightning activity was found to be approximately 150 km (~18 000 km2). 4) The authors’ analysis suggests that the surface-convection feedback appears to be a real phenomenon, in which drought tends to perpetuate drought with respect to convective storms and associated rainfall, within the limits found in 1) and 3).

Corresponding author address: John M. Hanesiak, Centre for Earth Observation Science, Department of Environment and Geography, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg MB R3T 2N2, Canada. E-mail address: john_hanesiak@umanitoba.ca
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