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Brandon J. Vogt


This study applied remotely sensed cloud-to-ground (CG) lightning strike location data, a digital elevation model (DEM), and a geographic information system (GIS) to characterize negative polarity peak current CG lightning Earth attachment behavior. It explored the propensity for (i) flashes to favor topographic highpoint attachment and (ii) striking distance (a near-Earth attachment force) to increase with peak current. On a 16 000 km2 10-m DEM covering a section of southeast and south-central Colorado, a GIS extraction method identified approximately 5000 hilltop and outcrop highpoints containing at least 15 m of vertical gain in a 300-m radius neighborhood with a minimum horizontal separation of 600 m. Flashes with peak currents ranging from −20 to −119 kiloamps (kA), collected between February 2005 and May 2009, were subdivided into 10 kA classes and mapped on this modified DEM. Buffers of 100-, 200-, and 300-m radii created around each highpoint were used to assess the hypothesis that striking distance increases with higher negative peak current. Point-in-polygon counts compared actual CG strike totals to random point totals received inside buffers. CG strikes favored topographic highpoints by as much as 5.0% when compared to random points. Chi-square goodness-of-fit tests further corroborated that actual CG strikes at highpoints were generated by a more nonrandom process. A positive trend between striking distance and peak current was also observed. Although this correlation has been characterized in controlled settings, this study is the first to document this physical process at real-world landscape scales over multiple years.

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