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Julian C. Brimelow
,
John M. Hanesiak
, and
William R. Burrows

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to focus on how anomalies in the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI; a proxy for soil moisture) over the Canadian Prairies can condition the convective boundary layer (CBL) so as to inhibit or facilitate thunderstorm activity while also considering the role of synoptic-scale forcing. This study focused on a census agricultural region (CAR) over central Alberta for which we had observed lightning data (proxy for thunderstorms), remotely sensed NDVI data, and in situ rawinsonde data (to quantify impacts of vegetation vigor on the CBL characteristics) for 11 summers from 1999 to 2009. The authors’ data suggest that the occurrence of lightning over the study area is more likely (and is of longer duration) when storms develop in an environment in which the surface and upper-air synoptic-scale forcing are synchronized. On days when surface forcing and midtropospheric ascent are present, storms are more likely to be triggered when NDVI is much above average, compared to when NDVI is much below average. Additionally, the authors found the response of thunderstorm duration to NDVI anomalies to be asymmetric. That is, the response of lightning duration to anomalies in NDVI is marked when NDVI is below average but is not necessarily discernible when NDVI is above average. The authors propose a conceptual model, based largely on observations, that integrates all of the above findings to describe how a reduction in vegetation vigor—in response to soil moisture deficits—modulates the partitioning of available energy into sensible and latent heat fluxes at the surface, thereby modulating lifting condensation level heights, which in turn affect lightning activity.

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Julian C. Brimelow
,
John M. Hanesiak
, and
William R. Burrows

Abstract

Linkages between the terrestrial ecosystem and precipitation play a critical role in regulating regional weather and climate. These linkages can manifest themselves as positive or negative feedback loops, which may either favor or inhibit the triggering and intensity of thunderstorms. Although the Canadian Prairies terrestrial system has been identified as having the potential to exert a detectable influence on convective precipitation during the warm season, little work has been done in this area using in situ observations.

The authors present findings from a novel study designed to explore linkages between the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) and lightning duration (DUR) from the Canadian Lightning Detection Network for 38 census agricultural regions (CARs) on the Canadian Prairies. Statistics Canada divides the prairie agricultural zone into CARs (polygons of varying size and shape) for the purpose of calculating agricultural statistics. Here, DUR is used as a proxy for thunderstorm activity. Statistical analyses were undertaken for 38 CARs for summers [June–August (JJA)] between 1999 and 2008. Specifically, coefficients of determination were calculated between pairs of standardized anomalies of DUR and NDVI by season and by month. Correlations were also calculated for CARs grouped by size and/or magnitude of the NDVI anomalies.

The main findings are as follows: 1) JJA lightning activity is overwhelmingly below average within larger dry areas (i.e., areas with below-average NDVI); that is, the linkages between NDVI and DUR increased significantly as both the area and magnitude of the dry anomaly increased. 2) In contrast, CARs with above-average NDVI did not consistently experience above-average lightning activity, regardless of the CAR size. 3) The lower threshold for the length scale of the dry anomalies required to affect the boundary layer sufficiently to reduce lightning activity was found to be approximately 150 km (~18 000 km2). 4) The authors’ analysis suggests that the surface-convection feedback appears to be a real phenomenon, in which drought tends to perpetuate drought with respect to convective storms and associated rainfall, within the limits found in 1) and 3).

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