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  • Author or Editor: Douglas M. Mach x
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Douglas M. Mach and W. David Rust


We have developed a device to measure lightning-channel propagation velocities. It consists of eight solid state silicon photodetectors mounted behind precision horizontal slits in the focal plane of a 50-mm lens on a 35-mm camera body. Each detector has a 0.1° vertical field of view that is separated from adjacent detector slits by 2.8°. The horizontal field-of-view for each detector is 41° and the total vertical field of view for the device is 21°. The signal from each detector is amplified by a circuit with a 10%–90% rise time of 0.6 μs and an equivalent decay time of 400 μs. The eight Photodetector pulses, IRIG-B time, and slow and fast electric field change waveforms are recorded on a 14-track analog tape recorder with an upper frequency response Of 1.0 MHz and a maximum dynamic interchannel timing error of 0.6 μs. To provide images of lightning geometry and permit time-to-thunder measurements, color video and sound are recorded with a standard VHS video cassette recorder. The return stroke velocity (RSV) device, video camera, and microphone are installed and coaxially aimed in an environmental enclosure on a remotely controlled pan-tilt unit atop our mobile laboratory, permitting the recording of lightning signals at remote sites and while mobile. To evaluate the performance of the RSV device, we have analyzed 12 natural return strokes from Alabama, Florida, and Oklahoma and 4 return strokes triggered at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida. The velocities we determined vary from 1.2 to 2.5×108 m s−1, with an average of 1.7×8 m s−1±0.8 × 8 m s−1. From comparisons of our results to those of a streaking camera, we find no significant differences between the velocities obtained from the same strokes with the two systems. We also find no differences between the characteristics of the pulses or the velocities calculated from them while the RSV device is moving or stationary.

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William J. Koshak, Douglas M. Mach, and Phillip M. Bitzer


The problem of inferring the location and time of occurrence of a very high frequency (VHF) lightning source emission from Lightning Mapping Array (LMA) network time-of-arrival (TOA) measurements is closely examined in order to clarify the cause of retrieval errors and to determine how best to mitigate these errors. With regard to this inverse problem, the previous literature lacks a comprehensive discussion of the associated forward problem. Hence, the forward problem is analyzed in this study to better clarify why retrieval errors increase with increasing source horizontal range and/or decreasing source altitude. Further insight is obtained by performing carefully designed Monte Carlo inversion simulations that provide specific retrieval error plots, which in turn lead to clear recommendations for mitigating retrieval errors. Based on all of the numerical results, the following strategies are recommended for mitigating retrieval errors (when possible, and without obstructing the line of sight): expand the horizontal extent of the LMA network, maximize the vertical sensor baseline by using mountainous terrain if available, and improve TOA measurement timing accuracy. Adding sensors to the network is relatively ineffective, unless of course the addition of sensors expands the horizontal extent and/or vertical baseline of the network. It is also shown how the standard retrieval method can be generalized by considering, in addition to the regular (unpolarized) point VHF source, the polarized transient very low frequency/low frequency (VLF/LF) electric point dipole source. Multiple observations (i.e., VHF arrival time and power, and VLF/LF arrival time and electric field amplitude) are simultaneously implemented into the new generalized mathematical framework, and the potential benefits are indicated.

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Douglas M. Mach, Donald R. MacGorman, W. David Rust, and Roy T. Arnold


We have tested a network of magnetic direction-finders (DFs) that locate ground strikes in Oklahoma and surrounding states in order to determine detection efficiency for the network and systematic errors in azimuth (i.e., site errors) for each of four DF sites. Independent data on lightning strike locations were obtained with a television (TV) camera on a mobile laboratory and an all-azimuth TV system at the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL). In two tests using these data, we found a location detection efficiency of about 70% for storms at about 70 and 300 km from the center of the network. Systematic errors in azimuth were determined by comparing locations from the lightning strike locating system with strikes located from the mobile laboratory system; also, for a single DF at NSSL, strike azimuths from the DF were compared with azimuths from the all-azimuth TV system for storms near NSSL. Furthermore, we developed a technique for using redundant DF data to determine systematic errors in azimuth measurements for each DF site. Azimuthal errors found by this analytic technique were consistent with errors found by using the two sets of direct measurements. The azimuthal errors are themselves a function of azimuth, with peak amplitudes ranging from less than 5° for DFs located at favorable sites to about 11° for one DF located at an unfavorable site.

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