Cloud-to-Ground Lightning in a Tornadic Storm on 8 May 1986

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  • 1 NOAA/ERL/National Severe Storms Laboratory, Norman, Oklahoma
  • | 2 Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies, NOAA/ERL/NSSL and University of Oklahoma, Norman
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Abstract

On 8 May 1986, the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) collected Doppler radar and lightning ground strike data on a supercell storm that produced three tornadoes, including an F3 tornado in Edmond, Oklahoma, approximately 40 km north of NSSL. The Edmond storm formed 30 km ahead of a storm complex and produced its first and most damaging tornado just as the storm complex began to overtake it from the west. In the mesocyclone that spawned the tornado, low-level cyclonic shear peaked as the first tornado dissipated and a second tornado began. As low-level cyclonic shear initially increased, negative cloud-to-ground lightning flash rates also increased, reaching a peak of 11 min−1 a few minutes after the peak in cyclonic shear. During this period lightning strike locations tended to concentrate just north of the mesocyclone, near and inside a 50-dBZ reflectivity core. As cyclonic shear decreased from its peak during and after the second tornado, negative ground flash rates also decreased, and strike locations became more scattered. Positive ground flashes began just before the storm became tornadic, and positive flash rates peaked during the tornadic stage of the storm.

The evolution of cloud-to-ground lightning in the Edmond storm differed considerably from the evolution of lightning in the Binger tornadic storm of 22 May 1981 that was studied previously. In the Binger storm, ground flash rates were negatively correlated with cyclonic shear and peaked 15–20 min later than low-level shear and intracloud lightning. It is suggested that the very strong mesocyclone and updraft in the Binger storm enhanced intracloud flash production and delayed ground flashes by causing the initial height of negative charge to be higher than in most storms. It is also suggested that weaker updrafts and a weaker, shallower mesocyclone in the Edmond storm resulted in higher negative ground flash rates when the Edmond mesocyclone was still strong, because negative charge near the mesocyclone was at the lower heights common to most thunderstorms.

Abstract

On 8 May 1986, the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) collected Doppler radar and lightning ground strike data on a supercell storm that produced three tornadoes, including an F3 tornado in Edmond, Oklahoma, approximately 40 km north of NSSL. The Edmond storm formed 30 km ahead of a storm complex and produced its first and most damaging tornado just as the storm complex began to overtake it from the west. In the mesocyclone that spawned the tornado, low-level cyclonic shear peaked as the first tornado dissipated and a second tornado began. As low-level cyclonic shear initially increased, negative cloud-to-ground lightning flash rates also increased, reaching a peak of 11 min−1 a few minutes after the peak in cyclonic shear. During this period lightning strike locations tended to concentrate just north of the mesocyclone, near and inside a 50-dBZ reflectivity core. As cyclonic shear decreased from its peak during and after the second tornado, negative ground flash rates also decreased, and strike locations became more scattered. Positive ground flashes began just before the storm became tornadic, and positive flash rates peaked during the tornadic stage of the storm.

The evolution of cloud-to-ground lightning in the Edmond storm differed considerably from the evolution of lightning in the Binger tornadic storm of 22 May 1981 that was studied previously. In the Binger storm, ground flash rates were negatively correlated with cyclonic shear and peaked 15–20 min later than low-level shear and intracloud lightning. It is suggested that the very strong mesocyclone and updraft in the Binger storm enhanced intracloud flash production and delayed ground flashes by causing the initial height of negative charge to be higher than in most storms. It is also suggested that weaker updrafts and a weaker, shallower mesocyclone in the Edmond storm resulted in higher negative ground flash rates when the Edmond mesocyclone was still strong, because negative charge near the mesocyclone was at the lower heights common to most thunderstorms.

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