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The Relationship between Total Cloud Lightning Behavior and Radar-Derived Thunderstorm Structure

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  • 1 Department of Meteorology, Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California
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Abstract

Total lightning detection systems have been in development since the mid-1980s and deployed in several areas around the world. Previous studies on total lightning found intra- and intercloud lightning (IC) activity tends to fluctuate significantly during the lifetime of thunderstorms and have indicated that lightning jumps or rapid changes in lightning flash rates are closely linked to changes in the vertical integrated liquid (VIL) reading on the National Weather Service’s Weather Surveillance Radar-1988 Doppler (WSR-88D) systems. This study examines the total lightning and its relationship to WSR-88D signatures used operationally to determine thunderstorm severity to highlight the potential benefit of a combined forecast approach. Lightning and thunderstorm data from the Dallas–Fort Worth, Texas, and Tucson, Arizona, areas from 2006 to 2009, were used to relate total lightning behavior and radar interrogation techniques. The results indicate that lightning jumps can be classified into severe wind, hail, or mixed-type jumps based on the behavior of various radar-based parameters. In 25 of 34 hail-type jumps and in 18 of 20 wind-type jumps, a characteristic change in cloud-to-ground (CG) versus IC lightning flash rates occurred prior to the report of severe weather. For hail-type jumps, IC flash rates increased, while CG flash rates were steady or decreased. For wind-type jumps, CG flash rates increased, while IC flash rates either increased (12 of 18) or were steady or decreased (6 of 18). Although not every lightning jump resulted in a severe weather report, the characteristic behavior in flash rates adds information to radar-based approaches for nowcasting the severe weather type.

Corresponding author address: Wendell Nuss, Dept. of Meteorology, Naval Postgraduate School, Root Hall 254, Code MR/Nu, 589 Dyer Rd., Monterey, CA 93943-5114. E-mail: nuss@nps.edu

Abstract

Total lightning detection systems have been in development since the mid-1980s and deployed in several areas around the world. Previous studies on total lightning found intra- and intercloud lightning (IC) activity tends to fluctuate significantly during the lifetime of thunderstorms and have indicated that lightning jumps or rapid changes in lightning flash rates are closely linked to changes in the vertical integrated liquid (VIL) reading on the National Weather Service’s Weather Surveillance Radar-1988 Doppler (WSR-88D) systems. This study examines the total lightning and its relationship to WSR-88D signatures used operationally to determine thunderstorm severity to highlight the potential benefit of a combined forecast approach. Lightning and thunderstorm data from the Dallas–Fort Worth, Texas, and Tucson, Arizona, areas from 2006 to 2009, were used to relate total lightning behavior and radar interrogation techniques. The results indicate that lightning jumps can be classified into severe wind, hail, or mixed-type jumps based on the behavior of various radar-based parameters. In 25 of 34 hail-type jumps and in 18 of 20 wind-type jumps, a characteristic change in cloud-to-ground (CG) versus IC lightning flash rates occurred prior to the report of severe weather. For hail-type jumps, IC flash rates increased, while CG flash rates were steady or decreased. For wind-type jumps, CG flash rates increased, while IC flash rates either increased (12 of 18) or were steady or decreased (6 of 18). Although not every lightning jump resulted in a severe weather report, the characteristic behavior in flash rates adds information to radar-based approaches for nowcasting the severe weather type.

Corresponding author address: Wendell Nuss, Dept. of Meteorology, Naval Postgraduate School, Root Hall 254, Code MR/Nu, 589 Dyer Rd., Monterey, CA 93943-5114. E-mail: nuss@nps.edu
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