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Lawrence D. Carey
and
Kurt M. Buffalo

Abstract

In this study, it is hypothesized that the mesoscale environment can indirectly control the cloud-to-ground (CG) lightning polarity of severe storms by directly affecting their structural, dynamical, and microphysical properties, which in turn directly control cloud electrification and ground flash polarity. A more specific hypothesis, which has been supported by past observational and laboratory charging studies, suggests that broad, strong updrafts and associated large liquid water contents in severe storms lead to the generation of an inverted charge structure and enhanced +CG lightning production. The corollary is that environmental conditions favoring these kinematic and microphysical characteristics should support severe storms generating an anomalously high (>25%) percentage of +CG lightning (i.e., positive storms) while environmental conditions relatively less favorable should sustain storms characterized by a typical (≤25%) percentage of +CG lightning (i.e., negative storms). Forty-eight inflow proximity soundings were analyzed to characterize the environment of nine distinct mesoscale regions of severe storms (4 positive and 5 negative) on 6 days during May–June 2002 over the central United States. This analysis clearly demonstrated significant and systematic differences in the mesoscale environments of positive and negative storms, which were consistent with the stated hypothesis. When compared to negative storms, positive storms occurred in environments associated with a drier low to midtroposphere, higher cloud-base height, smaller warm cloud depth, stronger conditional instability, larger 0–3 km AGL wind shear, stronger 0–2 km AGL storm relative wind speed, and larger buoyancy in the mixed-phase zone, at a statistically significant level. Differences in the warm cloud depth of positive and negative storms were by far the most dramatic, suggesting an important role for this parameter in controlling CG lightning polarity. In this study, strong correlations between the mesoscale environment and CG lightning polarity were demonstrated. However, causality could not be verified due to a lack of in situ observations to confirm the hypothesized microphysical, dynamical, and electrical responses to variations in environmental conditions that ultimately determined the dominant CG polarity. Future observational field programs and cloud modeling studies should focus on these critical intermediary processes.

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Lawrence D. Carey
and
Steven A. Rutledge

Abstract

One of the primary scientific objectives of the Maritime Continent Thunderstorm Experiment was to study cloud electrification processes in tropical island convection, in particular, the coupling between ice phase precipitation and lightning production. To accomplish this goal, a C-band polarimetric radar was deployed in the Tropics (11.6°S, 130.8°E) for the first time, accompanied by a suite of lightning measurements. Using observations of the propagation-corrected horizontal reflectivity and differential reflectivity, along with specific differential phase, rain and ice masses were estimated during the entire life cycle of an electrically active tropical convective complex (known locally as Hector) over the Tiwi Islands on 28 November 1995. Hector’s precipitation structure as inferred from these raw and derived radar fields was then compared in time and space to the measured surface electric field, cloud-to-ground (CG) and total lightning flash rates, and ground strike locations.

During Hector’s developing stage, precipitating convective cells along island sea breezes were dominated by warm rain processes. No significant electric fields or lightning were associated with this stage of Hector, despite substantial rainfall rates. Aided by gust front forcing, a cumulus merger process resulted in larger, taller, and more intense convective complexes that were dominated by mixed-phase precipitation processes. During the mature phase of Hector, lightning and the surface electric field were strongly correlated to the mixed phase ice mass and rainfall. Merged convective complexes produced 97% of the rainfall and mixed-phase ice mass and 100% of the CG lightning. As Hector dissipated, lightning activity rapidly ceased.

As evidenced from the multiparameter radar observations, the multicell nature of Hector resulted in the continuous lofting of supercooled drops to temperatures between −10° and −20°C in discrete updraft cores during both the early and mature phases. The freezing of these drops provided instantaneous precipitation-sized ice particles that may have subsequently rimed and participated in thunderstorm electrification via the noninductive charging mechanism.

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Jian-Jian Wang
and
Lawrence D. Carey

Abstract

A primary goal of the South China Sea Monsoon Experiment (SCSMEX), a major field campaign of the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM), is to define the initiation, structure, evolution, and dynamics of precipitation processes associated with the onset of the South China Sea (SCS) summer monsoon. In this study, dual-Doppler and dual-polarimetric radar analysis techniques are used to investigate the development and structure of a squall-line system observed on 24 May 1998. The focus is the linkage between the airflow and the microphysical fields through the system.

The squall-line system, including three distinct lines, persisted from 1200 UTC 24 May to the following day. A detailed study was performed on the structure of the second and most intense line, lasting for over 10 h. Compared to tropical squall lines observed in other regions, this narrow squall-line system had some interesting features including 1) maximum reflectivity as high as 55 dBZ; 2) relatively little stratiform rainfall that preceded instead of trailed the convective line; and 3) a broad vertical velocity maximum in the rear part of the system, rather than a narrow ribbon of vertical velocity maximum near the leading edge.

Polarimetric radar–inferred microphysical (e.g., hydrometeor type, amount, and size) and rainfall properties are placed in the context of the mesoscale morphology and dual-Doppler-derived kinematics for this squall-line system. A comparison is made between results from this study for SCSMEX and the previous studies for the TRMM Large-Scale Biosphere–Atmosphere experiment (LBA). It was found that precipitation over the SCS monsoon region during the summer monsoon onset was similar to the precipitation over the Amazon monsoon region during the westerly regime of the TRMM–LBA, which has previously been found to be closer to typical conditions over tropical oceans. Both of these cases showed lower rain rates and rainwater contents, smaller raindrops, and significantly lower ice water contents between 5 and 8 km than the precipitation over the Amazon during the easterly regime of the TRMM–LBA with more tropical continental characteristics.

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Lawrence D. Carey
and
Walter A. Petersen

Abstract

Estimating raindrop size has been a long-standing objective of polarimetric radar–based precipitation retrieval methods. The relationship between the differential reflectivity Z dr and the median volume diameter D 0 is typically derived empirically using raindrop size distribution observations from a disdrometer, a raindrop physical model, and a radar scattering model. Because disdrometers are known to undersample large raindrops, the maximum drop diameter D max is often an assumed parameter in the rain physical model. C-band Z dr is sensitive to resonance scattering at drop diameters larger than 5 mm, which falls in the region of uncertainty for D max. Prior studies have not accounted for resonance scattering at C band and D max uncertainty in assessing potential errors in drop size retrievals. As such, a series of experiments are conducted that evaluate the effect of D max parameterization on the retrieval error of D 0 from a fourth-order polynomial function of C-band Z dr by varying the assumed D max through the range of assumptions found in the literature. Normalized bias errors for estimating D 0 from C-band Z dr range from −8% to 15%, depending on the postulated error in D max. The absolute normalized bias error increases with C-band Z dr, can reach 10% for Z dr as low as 1–1.75 dB, and can increase from there to values as large as 15%–45% for larger Z dr, which is a larger potential bias error than is found at S and X band. Uncertainty in D max assumptions and the associated potential D 0 retrieval errors should be noted and accounted for in future C-band polarimetric radar studies.

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Scott M. Steiger
,
Richard E. Orville
, and
Lawrence D. Carey

Abstract

It is shown that total lightning mapping, along with radar and National Lightning Detection Network (NLDN) cloud-to-ground lightning data, can be used to diagnose the severity of a thunderstorm. Analysis of supercells, some of which were tornadic, on 13 October 2001 over Dallas–Fort Worth, Texas, shows that Lightning Detection and Ranging (LDAR II) lightning source heights (quartile, median, and 95th percentile heights) increased as the storms intensified. Most of the total (cloud to ground and intracloud) lightning occurred where reflectivity cores extended upward, within regions of strong reflectivity gradient rather than in reflectivity cores. A total lightning hole was associated with an intense, nontornadic supercell on 6 April 2003. None of the supercells on 13 October 2001 exhibited a lightning hole. During tornadogenesis, the radar and LDAR II data indicated updraft weakening. The height of the 30-dBZ radar top began to descend approximately 10 min (2 volume scans) before tornado touchdown in one storm. Total lightning and cloud-to-ground flash rates decreased by up to a factor of 5 to a minimum during an F2 tornado touchdown associated with this storm. LDAR II source heights all showed descent by 2–4 km during a 25-min period prior to and during this tornado touchdown. This drastic trend of decreasing source heights prior to and during tornado touchdown was observed in two storms, but did not occur in nontornadic supercells, suggesting that these parameters can be useful to forecasters. These observations agree with tornadogenesis theory that as the updraft weakens, the mesocyclone can divide (into an updraft and downdraft) and become tornadic.

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Scott M. Steiger
,
Richard E. Orville
, and
Lawrence D. Carey

Abstract

Total lightning data from the Lightning Detection and Ranging (LDAR II) research network in addition to cloud-to-ground flash data from the National Lightning Detection Network (NLDN) and data from the Dallas–Fort Worth, Texas, Weather Surveillance Radar-1988 Doppler (WSR-88D) station (KFWS) were examined from individual cells within mesoscale convective systems that crossed the Dallas–Fort Worth region on 13 October 2001, 27 May 2002, and 16 June 2002. LDAR II source density contours were comma shaped, in association with severe wind events within mesoscale convective systems (MCSs) on 13 October 2001 and 27 May 2002. This signature is similar to the radar reflectivity bow echo. The source density comma shape was apparent 15 min prior to a severe wind report and lasted more than 20 min during the 13 October storm. Consistent relationships between severe straight-line winds, radar, and lightning storm cell characteristics (e.g., lightning heights) were not found for cells within MCSs as was the case for severe weather in supercells in Part I of this study. Cell interactions within MCSs are believed to weaken these relationships as reflectivity and lightning from nearby storms contaminate the cells of interest. Another hypothesis for these weak relations is that system, not individual cell, processes are responsible for severe straight-line winds at the surface. Analysis of the total lightning structure of the 13 October 2001 MCS showed downward-sloping source density contours behind the main convective line into the stratiform region. This further supports a charge advection mechanism in developing the stratiform charge structure. Bimodal vertical source density distributions were observed within MCS convection close to the center of the LDAR II network, while the lower mode was not detected at increasing range.

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Retha Matthee Mecikalski
,
Anthony L. Bain
, and
Lawrence D. Carey

Abstract

The Deep Convective Clouds and Chemistry (DC3) experiment seeks to understand the kinematic and microphysical controls on the lightning behavior of deep moist convection. This study utilized multiple dual-polarization Doppler radars across northern Alabama to quantify microphysical and kinematic properties and processes that often serve as precursors to lightning, such as the graupel echo volume, graupel mass, and convective updraft volume. The focus here was on one multicellular complex that occurred on 21 May 2012 in northern Alabama during DC3. The graupel echo volume and the graupel mass in the charging region correlated well with the total lightning flash rate (FR), and even better than the updraft volumes and maximum updraft velocities. The flash length scales (LS) and flash areas were generally anticorrelated to the FR, while it was correlated to the nonprecipitation ice volume. More specifically, the presence of smaller flashes was associated with a stronger lower positive charge region caused by larger graupel volumes, stronger updraft volumes, and stronger maximum updraft velocities while larger flashes occurred during lower FRs and were associated with a weakened lower positive charge region in combination with a stronger upper positive charge region, weaker updraft velocities, a smaller graupel volume and mass, and an increase in nonprecipitation ice volume.

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Lawrence D. Carey
,
Walter A. Petersen
, and
Steven A. Rutledge

Abstract

On 30 May 1998, a tornado devastated the town of Spencer, South Dakota. The Spencer tornado (rated F4 on the Fujita tornado intensity scale) was the third and most intense of five tornadoes produced by a single supercell storm during an approximate 1-h period. The supercell produced over 76% positive cloud-to-ground (CG) lightning and a peak positive CG flash rate of 18 flashes min−1 (5-min average) during a 2-h period surrounding the tornado damage. Earlier studies have reported anomalous positive CG lightning activity in some supercell storms producing violent tornadoes. However, what makes the CG lightning activity in this tornadic storm unique is the magnitude and timing of the positive ground flashes relative to the F4 tornado. In previous studies, supercells dominated by positive CG lightning produced their most violent tornado after they attained their maximum positive ground flash rate, whenever the rate exceeded 1.5 flashes min−1. Further, tornadogenesis often occurred during a lull in CG lightning activity and sometimes during a reversal from positive to negative polarity. Contrary to these findings, the positive CG lightning flash rate and percentage of positive CG lightning in the Spencer supercell increased dramatically while the storm was producing F4 damage on Spencer.

These results have important implications for the use of CG lightning in the nowcasting of tornadoes and for the understanding of cloud electrification in these unique storms. In order to further explore these issues, the authors present detailed analyses of storm evolution and structure using Sioux Falls, South Dakota, (KFSD) Weather Surveillance Radar-1988 Doppler (WSR-88D) radar reflectivity and Doppler velocity and National Lightning Detection Network (NLDN) CG lightning data. The analyses suggest that a merger between the Spencer supercell and a squall line on its rear flank may have provided the impetus for both the F4 tornadic damage and the dramatic increase in positive CG lightning during the tornado, possibly explaining the difference in timing compared to past studies.

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Lawrence D. Carey
,
Steven A. Rutledge
, and
Walter A. Petersen

Abstract

The majority (61%) of severe storm reports (i.e., large hail and tornado) during the 1989–98 warm seasons (April–September) were associated with predominantly (>90%) negative cloud-to-ground (PNCG) lightning. Across the contiguous United States, only 15% of severe storm reports were characterized by predominantly (>50%) positive CG (PPCG) lightning activity. However, significant regional variability occurred in the relationship between warm season severe storm reports and CG lightning polarity. In the eastern United States, a significant fraction (81%) of severe storm reports occurred nearby PNCG lightning while only 2% of severe storms were associated with PPCG lightning. The CG lightning behavior was quite different over the northern plains; only 28% of severe storm reports were linked with PNCG lightning while 43% were characterized by PPCG lightning. Although the direct physical relationship is still not evident, this regional variability appears to be at least partially explained by differences in the meteorological environment of severe storms producing PPCG and PNCG lightning.

The locations of the monthly frequency maxima of severe storms that produced PPCG and PNCG lightning were systematically offset with respect to the climatological monthly position of the surface θ e ridge on severe outbreak days. Severe storms that produced PPCG lightning generally occurred west and northwest of the θ e ridge in the upstream θ e gradient region. Severe storms generating PNCG lightning were located southeast of the PPCG lightning maxima, closer to the axis of the θ e ridge in higher mean values of θ e .

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Christopher J. Schultz
,
Walter A. Petersen
, and
Lawrence D. Carey

Abstract

Previous studies have demonstrated that rapid increases in total lightning activity (intracloud + cloud-to-ground) are often observed tens of minutes in advance of the occurrence of severe weather at the ground. These rapid increases in lightning activity have been termed “lightning jumps.” Herein, the authors document a positive correlation between lightning jumps and the manifestation of severe weather in thunderstorms occurring across the Tennessee Valley and Washington D.C. A total of 107 thunderstorms from the Tennessee Valley; Washington, D.C.; Dallas, Texas; and Houston, Texas, were examined in this study. Of the 107 thunderstorms, 69 thunderstorms fall into the category of nonsevere and 38 into the category of severe. From the dataset of 69 isolated nonsevere thunderstorms, an average, peak, 1-min flash rate of 10 flashes per minute was determined. A variety of severe thunderstorm types were examined for this study, including a mesoscale convective system, mesoscale convective vortex, tornadic outer rainbands of tropical remnants, supercells, and pulse severe thunderstorms. Of the 107 thunderstorms, 85 thunderstorms (47 nonsevere, 38 severe) were from the Tennessee Valley and Washington, D.C., and these 85 thunderstorms tested six lightning jump algorithm configurations (Gatlin, Gatlin 45, 2σ, 3σ, Threshold 10, and Threshold 8). Performance metrics for each algorithm were then calculated, yielding encouraging results from the limited sample of 85 thunderstorms. The 2σ lightning jump algorithm had a high probability of detection (POD; 87%), a modest false-alarm rate (FAR; 33%), and a solid Heidke skill score (0.75). These statistics exceed current NWS warning statistics with this dataset; however, this algorithm needs further testing because there is a large difference in sample sizes. A second and more simplistic lightning jump algorithm named the Threshold 8 lightning jump algorithm also shows promise, with a POD of 81% and a FAR of 41%. Average lead times to severe weather occurrence for these two algorithms were 23 min. The overall goal of this study is to advance the development of an operationally applicable jump algorithm that can be used with either total lightning observations made from the ground, or in the near future from space using the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite Series R (GOES-R) Geostationary Lightning Mapper.

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