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Lightning in the North American Monsoon: An Exploratory Climatology

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  • 1 Vaisala, Inc., Tucson, Arizona
  • | 2 Vaisala, Inc., Louisville, Colorado
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Abstract

Temporal and spatial distributions of the North American monsoon have been studied previously with rainfall and satellite data. In the current study, the monsoon is examined with lightning data from Vaisala’s Global Lightning Dataset (GLD360). GLD360 has been operating for over three years and provides sufficient data to develop an exploratory climatology with minimal spatial variation in detection efficiency and location accuracy across the North American monsoon region. About 80% of strokes detected by GLD360 are cloud to ground. This paper focuses on seasonal, monthly, and diurnal features of lightning occurrence during the monsoon season from Mazatlán north-northwest to northern Arizona and New Mexico. The goal is to describe thunderstorm frequency with a dataset that provides uniform spatial coverage at a resolution of 2–5 km and uniform temporal coverage with individual lightning events resolved to the millisecond, compared with prior studies that used hourly point rainfall or satellite data with a resolution of several kilometers. The monthly lightning stroke density over northwestern Mexico increases between May and June, as thunderstorms begin over the high terrain east of the Gulf of California. The monthly lightning stroke density over the entire region increases dramatically to a maximum in July and August. The highest stroke densities observed in Mexico approach those observed by GLD360 in subtropical and tropical regions in Africa, Central and South America, and Southeast Asia. The diurnal cycle of lightning exhibits a maximum over the highest terrain near noon, associated with daytime solar heating, a maximum near midnight along the southern coast of the Gulf, and a gradual decay toward sunrise.

Corresponding author address: Ronald L. Holle, Vaisala Inc., Technology Research, 2705 E Medina Rd., Suite 111, Tucson, AZ 85756. E-mail: ron.holle@vaisala.com

Abstract

Temporal and spatial distributions of the North American monsoon have been studied previously with rainfall and satellite data. In the current study, the monsoon is examined with lightning data from Vaisala’s Global Lightning Dataset (GLD360). GLD360 has been operating for over three years and provides sufficient data to develop an exploratory climatology with minimal spatial variation in detection efficiency and location accuracy across the North American monsoon region. About 80% of strokes detected by GLD360 are cloud to ground. This paper focuses on seasonal, monthly, and diurnal features of lightning occurrence during the monsoon season from Mazatlán north-northwest to northern Arizona and New Mexico. The goal is to describe thunderstorm frequency with a dataset that provides uniform spatial coverage at a resolution of 2–5 km and uniform temporal coverage with individual lightning events resolved to the millisecond, compared with prior studies that used hourly point rainfall or satellite data with a resolution of several kilometers. The monthly lightning stroke density over northwestern Mexico increases between May and June, as thunderstorms begin over the high terrain east of the Gulf of California. The monthly lightning stroke density over the entire region increases dramatically to a maximum in July and August. The highest stroke densities observed in Mexico approach those observed by GLD360 in subtropical and tropical regions in Africa, Central and South America, and Southeast Asia. The diurnal cycle of lightning exhibits a maximum over the highest terrain near noon, associated with daytime solar heating, a maximum near midnight along the southern coast of the Gulf, and a gradual decay toward sunrise.

Corresponding author address: Ronald L. Holle, Vaisala Inc., Technology Research, 2705 E Medina Rd., Suite 111, Tucson, AZ 85756. E-mail: ron.holle@vaisala.com
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