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Stephanie A. Weiss, W. David Rust, Donald R. MacGorman, Eric C. Bruning, and Paul R. Krehbiel

Abstract

Data from a three-dimensional lightning mapping array (LMA) and from two soundings by balloon-borne electric field meters (EFMs) were used to analyze the electrical structures of a multicell storm observed on 25 June 2000 during the Severe Thunderstorm Electrification and Precipitation Study (STEPS). This storm had a complex, multicell structure with four sections, each of whose electrical structure differed from that of the others during all or part of the analyzed period. The number of vertically stacked charge regions in any given section of the storm ranged from two to six. The most complex charge and lightning structures occurred in regions with the highest reflectivity values and the deepest reflectivity cores. Intracloud flashes tended to concentrate in areas with large radar reflectivity values, though some propagated across more than one core of high reflectivity or into the low-reflectivity anvil. Intracloud lightning flash rates decreased as the vertical extent and maximum value of reflectivity cores decreased. Cloud-to-ground flash rates increased as cores of high reflectivity descended to low altitudes. Most cloud-to-ground flashes were positive. All observed positive ground flashes initiated between the lowest-altitude negative charge region and a positive charge region just above it. The storm’s complexity makes it hard to classify the vertical polarity of its overall charge structure, but most of the storm had a different vertical polarity than what is typically observed outside the Great Plains. The electrical structure can vary considerably from storm to storm, or even within the same storm, as in the present case.

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Eric C. Bruning, W. David Rust, Donald R. MacGorman, Michael I. Biggerstaff, and Terry J. Schuur

Abstract

Lightning mapping, electric field, and radar data from the 26 May 2004 supercell in central Oklahoma are used to examine the storm’s charge structure. An initial arc-shaped maximum in lightning activity on the right flank of the storm’s bounded weak echo region was composed of an elevated normal polarity tripole in the region of precipitation lofted above the storm’s weak echo region. Later in the storm, two charge structures were associated with precipitation that reached the ground. To the left of the weak echo region, six charge regions were inferred, with positive charge carried on hail at the bottom of the stack. Farther forward in the storm’s precipitation region, four charge regions were inferred, with negative charge at the bottom of the stack. There were different charge structures in adjacent regions of the storm at the same time, and regions of opposite polarity charge were horizontally adjacent at the same altitude. Flashes occasionally lowered positive charge to ground from the forward charge region. A conceptual model is presented that ties charge structure in different regions of the storm to storm structure inferred from radar reflectivity.

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Milind Sharma, Robin L. Tanamachi, Eric C. Bruning, and Kristin M. Calhoun

Abstract

We demonstrate the utility of transient polarimetric signatures (Z DR and K DP columns, a proxy for surges in a thunderstorm updraft) to explain variability in lightning flash rates in a tornadic supercell. Observational data from a WSR-88D and the Oklahoma lightning mapping array are used to map the temporal variance of polarimetric signatures and VHF sources from lightning channels. It is shown, via three-dimensional and cross-sectional analyses, that the storm was of inverted polarity resulting from anomalous electrification. Statistical analysis confirms that mean flash area in the Z DR column region was 10 times smaller than elsewhere in the storm. On an average, 5 times more flash initiations occurred within Z DR column regions, thereby supporting existing theory of an inverse relationship between flash initiation rates and lightning channel extent. Segmentation and object identification algorithms are applied to gridded radar data to calculate metrics such as height, width, and volume of Z DR and K DP columns. Variability in lightning flash rates is best explained by the fluctuations in Z DR column volume with a Spearman’s rank correlation coefficient value of 0.72. The highest flash rates occur in conjunction with the deepest Z DR columns (up to 5 km above environmental melting level) and largest volumes of Z DR columns extending up to the −20°C level (3 km above the melting level). Reduced flash rates toward the end of the analysis are indicative of weaker updrafts manifested as low Z DR column volumes at and above the −10°C level. These findings are consistent with recent studies linking lightning to the interplay between storm dynamics, kinematics, thermodynamics, and precipitation microphysics.

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Eric C. Bruning, W. David Rust, Terry J. Schuur, Donald R. MacGorman, Paul R. Krehbiel, and William Rison

Abstract

On 28–29 June 2004 a multicellular thunderstorm west of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, was probed as part of the Thunderstorm Electrification and Lightning Experiment field program. This study makes use of radar observations from the Norman, Oklahoma, polarimetric Weather Surveillance Radar-1988 Doppler, three-dimensional lightning mapping data from the Oklahoma Lightning Mapping Array (LMA), and balloon-borne vector electric field meter (EFM) measurements. The storm had a low flash rate (30 flashes in 40 min). Four charge regions were inferred from a combination of LMA and EFM data. Lower positive charge near 4 km and midlevel negative charge from 4.5 to 6 km MSL (from 0° to −6.5°C) were generated in and adjacent to a vigorous updraft pulse. Further midlevel negative charge from 4.5 to 6 km MSL and upper positive charge from 6 to 8 km (from −6.5° to −19°C) were generated later in quantity sufficient to initiate lightning as the updraft decayed. A negative screening layer was present near the storm top (8.5 km MSL, −25°C). Initial lightning flashes were between lower positive and midlevel negative charge and started occurring shortly after a cell began lofting hydrometeors into the mixed phase region, where graupel was formed. A leader from the storm’s first flash avoided a region where polarimetric radar suggested wet growth and the resultant absence of noninductive charging of those hydrometeors. Initiation locations of later flashes that propagated into the upper positive charge tracked the descending location of a polarimetric signature of graupel. As the storm decayed, electric fields greater than 160 kV m−1 exceeded the minimum threshold for lightning initiation suggested by the hypothesized runaway breakdown process at 5.5 km MSL, but lightning did not occur. The small spatial extent (≈100 m) of the large electric field may not have been sufficient to allow runaway breakdown to fully develop and initiate lightning.

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