Abstract

Although negative ground flashes usually dominate cloud-to-ground lightning activity, positive ground flashes can dominate in some severe storms for periods ranging from 30 min to several hours. Unlike most other types of storms in which positive ground flashes occur, severe storms can have positive flash rates and densities of strike points comparable to those usually observed for negative ground flashes in active thunderstorms. Fifteen such storms are analyzed in this paper to examine relationships of positive ground flashes to various storm characteristics, especially reports of large hail and tornadoes.

In 4 of the 15 storms, ground flash activity was dominated by positive cloud-to-ground lightning throughout most of the life of the storm. In 11 storms, the dominant polarity of ground flashes switched from positive to negative sometime during the mature stage of the storm. In all cases observed by Doppler radar, storms dominated by positive flashes had at least some rotation, and in most cases they were low-precipitation or classic supercell storms. If negative ground flashes subsequently became frequent and dominated positive ground flashes in a storm, it usually remained strong and often became a classic or heavy-precipitation supercell storm.

In all cases for which hail verification efforts were vigorous, large hail was reported during the period when positive ground flashes dominated. Usually, the frequency and reported diameter of hail decreased after the dominant polarity of ground flashes switched to negative. In the 11 storms that were tornadic, tornadoes occurred either during or after the period when positive ground flashes dominated. The strongest tornado usually began after the positive ground flash rate decreased from its maximum value; this was always true when the maximum rate exceeded 1.5 min−1. Although many hailstorms and tornadic storms are dominated by negative flashes, tornadic storms and hailstorms constitute a small fraction of storms dominated by frequent negative flashes, but appear to constitute an overwhelming majority of storms dominated by frequent positive flashes.

The geographic region in which positive or negative flashes dominated on a given day appeared consistent from storm to storm; the dominant polarity switched in roughly the same region for sequential storms following similar tracks. It is inferred that the dominant polarity of lightning is strongly influenced by mesoscale properties of the atmosphere, possibly through systematic effects on other storm properties related to severe weather.

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