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The North American Lightning Detection Network (NALDN)—Analysis of Flash Data: 2001–09

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  • 1 Department of Atmospheric Sciences, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas
  • | 2 School of Earth Sciences and Physics, University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, Colorado
  • | 3 Cloud Physics and Severe Weather Research Section, Environment Canada, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
  • | 4 Institute for Atmospheric Physics, The University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona
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Abstract

Cloud-to-ground (CG) lightning data have been analyzed for the years 2001–09 for North America, which includes Alaska, Canada, and the lower 48 U.S. states. Flashes recorded within the North American Lightning Detection Network (NALDN) are examined. No corrections for detection efficiency variability are made over the 9 yr of the dataset or over the large geographical area comprising North America. There were network changes in the NALDN during the 9 yr, but these changes have not been corrected for nor have the recorded data been altered in any way with the exception that all positive lightning reports with peak currents less than 15 kA have been deleted. Thus, the reader should be aware that secular changes are not just climatological in nature. All data were analyzed with a spatial resolution of 20 km. The analyses presented in this work provide a synoptic view of the interannual variability of lightning observations in North America, including the impacts of physical changes in the network during the 9 yr of study. These data complement and extend previous analyses that evaluate the U.S. NLDN during periods of upgrade. The total (negative and positive) flashes for ground flash density, the percentage of positive lightning, and the positive flash density have been analyzed. Furthermore, the negative and positive first stroke peak currents and the flash multiplicity have been examined. The highest flash densities in Canada are along the U.S.–Canadian border (1–2 flashes per square kilometer) and in the United States along the Gulf of Mexico coast from Texas through Florida (exceeding 14 flashes per square kilometer in Florida). The Gulf Stream is “outlined” by higher flash densities off the east coast of the United States. Maximum annual positive flash densities in Canada range primarily from 0.01 to 0.3 flashes per square kilometer, and in the United States to over 0.5 flashes per square kilometer in the Midwest and in the states of Louisiana and Mississippi. The annual percentage of positive lightning to ground varies from less than 2% over Florida to values exceeding 25% off the West Coast, Alaska, and the Yukon. A localized maximum in the percentage of positive lightning in the NALDN occurs in Manitoba and western Ontario, just north of North Dakota and Minnesota.

When averaged over North America, first stroke negative median peak currents range from 19.8 kA in 2001 to 16.0 kA in 2009 and for all years, average 16.1 kA. First stroke positive median peak currents range from a high of 29.0 kA in 2008 and 2009 to a low of 23.3 kA in 2003 with a median of 25.7 kA for all years. There is a relatively sharp transition from low to high median negative peak currents along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts of the United States. No sharp transitions are observed for the median positive peak currents. Relatively lower positive peak currents occur throughout the southeastern United States. The highest values of mean negative multiplicity exceed 3.0 strokes per flash in the NALDN with some variation over the 9 yr. Lower values of mean negative multiplicity occur in the western United States. Positive flash mean multiplicity is slightly higher than 1.1, with the highest values of 1.7 observed in the southwestern states. As has been noted in prior research, CG lightning has significant variations from storm to storm as well as between geographical regions and/or seasons and, consequently, a single distribution for any lightning parameter, such as multiplicity or peak current, may not be sufficient to represent or describe the parameter.

Corresponding author address: Richard E. Orville, Dept. of Atmospheric Sciences, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77843-3150. E-mail: rorville@tamu.edu

Abstract

Cloud-to-ground (CG) lightning data have been analyzed for the years 2001–09 for North America, which includes Alaska, Canada, and the lower 48 U.S. states. Flashes recorded within the North American Lightning Detection Network (NALDN) are examined. No corrections for detection efficiency variability are made over the 9 yr of the dataset or over the large geographical area comprising North America. There were network changes in the NALDN during the 9 yr, but these changes have not been corrected for nor have the recorded data been altered in any way with the exception that all positive lightning reports with peak currents less than 15 kA have been deleted. Thus, the reader should be aware that secular changes are not just climatological in nature. All data were analyzed with a spatial resolution of 20 km. The analyses presented in this work provide a synoptic view of the interannual variability of lightning observations in North America, including the impacts of physical changes in the network during the 9 yr of study. These data complement and extend previous analyses that evaluate the U.S. NLDN during periods of upgrade. The total (negative and positive) flashes for ground flash density, the percentage of positive lightning, and the positive flash density have been analyzed. Furthermore, the negative and positive first stroke peak currents and the flash multiplicity have been examined. The highest flash densities in Canada are along the U.S.–Canadian border (1–2 flashes per square kilometer) and in the United States along the Gulf of Mexico coast from Texas through Florida (exceeding 14 flashes per square kilometer in Florida). The Gulf Stream is “outlined” by higher flash densities off the east coast of the United States. Maximum annual positive flash densities in Canada range primarily from 0.01 to 0.3 flashes per square kilometer, and in the United States to over 0.5 flashes per square kilometer in the Midwest and in the states of Louisiana and Mississippi. The annual percentage of positive lightning to ground varies from less than 2% over Florida to values exceeding 25% off the West Coast, Alaska, and the Yukon. A localized maximum in the percentage of positive lightning in the NALDN occurs in Manitoba and western Ontario, just north of North Dakota and Minnesota.

When averaged over North America, first stroke negative median peak currents range from 19.8 kA in 2001 to 16.0 kA in 2009 and for all years, average 16.1 kA. First stroke positive median peak currents range from a high of 29.0 kA in 2008 and 2009 to a low of 23.3 kA in 2003 with a median of 25.7 kA for all years. There is a relatively sharp transition from low to high median negative peak currents along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts of the United States. No sharp transitions are observed for the median positive peak currents. Relatively lower positive peak currents occur throughout the southeastern United States. The highest values of mean negative multiplicity exceed 3.0 strokes per flash in the NALDN with some variation over the 9 yr. Lower values of mean negative multiplicity occur in the western United States. Positive flash mean multiplicity is slightly higher than 1.1, with the highest values of 1.7 observed in the southwestern states. As has been noted in prior research, CG lightning has significant variations from storm to storm as well as between geographical regions and/or seasons and, consequently, a single distribution for any lightning parameter, such as multiplicity or peak current, may not be sufficient to represent or describe the parameter.

Corresponding author address: Richard E. Orville, Dept. of Atmospheric Sciences, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77843-3150. E-mail: rorville@tamu.edu
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