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Richard E. Orville and Gary R. Huffines

Abstract

Cloud-to-ground lightning data have been analyzed for the years 1995–97 for the contiguous United States for total flashes, positive flashes, the percentage of positive lightning, peak currents for negative and positive lightning, and for negative multiplicity. The authors examined a total of 75.8 million flashes divided among the three years, 22.7 million (1995), 26.2 million (1996), and 26.9 million (1997). The highest flash densities, uncorrected for detection efficiency, occur in Louisiana and Florida, typically exceeding 11 flashes km−2 on a grid scale of 0.2°. Positive flash densities exceed 1.1 flashes km−2 in Florida, Louisiana, and an area overlapped by the states of Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky. The monthly percentage positive lightning ranges from 6.5% (July 1995) to 24.5% (January 1996). The annual percentage of positive lightning is 9.3% (1995), 10.2% (1996), and 10.1% (1997). Areas of positive lightning greater than 25% occur from the Canadian border as far south as Kansas, along the West Coast, as well as Maine. The median negative peak currents are approximately 20 kA from January through November, jumping to 24 kA in December. The median positive peak currents are highest in February (25 kA) and decrease to a minimum in July (15 kA). Median negative peak currents are high along continental coastal areas, particularly the West Coast. Mountainous regions appear to have lower median negative peak currents, on the order of 18 kA. Median positive peak currents exceed 40 kA in the upper Midwest, but are less than 10 kA in Louisiana and Florida. The mean flash multiplicity appears to increase with decreasing latitude in the eastern half of the United States.

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Vladimir A. Rakov and Gary R. Huffines

Abstract

The percentage of negative lightning flashes composed of a single stroke is examined. This percentage is estimated from data reported by the U.S. National Lightning Detection Network (NLDN) for Florida and New Mexico and is compared with that determined from electric field and optical observations in these two states. The latter observations allowed a very accurate stroke count and, therefore, were used as the ground truth in the comparison. The percentage of negative single-stroke flashes reported by the NLDN is a factor of 2–3 higher than from the accurate-stroke-count studies in Florida (44% vs 17%) and is a factor of 3–4 higher in New Mexico (51% vs 14%). The observed discrepancies suggest that many small subsequent strokes are missed by the NLDN because these strokes fail to exceed the system's trigger threshold level so that only one stroke per flash is recorded in many multiple-stroke flashes. The percentage of negative single-stroke flashes reported by the Austrian lightning detection network is 40%, similar to the percentages reported by the NLDN for Florida and New Mexico. Percentages of single-stroke flashes determined from accurate-stroke-count studies in Sweden and Sri Lanka, which represent additional meteorologically distinct regimes, are 18% and 21%, respectively, in fair agreement with the Florida and New Mexico accurate-stroke-count studies. From comparison of the NLDN-reported and ground-truth data, it is possible to estimate the NLDN stroke and flash detection efficiencies. If the NLDN stroke detection efficiency were the same for both first and subsequent strokes, the percentage of single-stroke flashes and number of strokes per flash reported by the NLDN for Florida (44% and 2.4, respectively) would correspond to a stroke detection efficiency of about 40% and a flash detection efficiency of about 78%. A similar approach to the New Mexico data would yield a stroke detection efficiency of about 20% and a flash detection efficiency of about 62%.

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Richard E. Orville and Gary R. Huffines

Abstract

The physical and geographical characteristics of over 216 million cloud-to-ground lightning flashes recorded during the first decade (1989–98) of operation of the National Lightning Detection Network (NLDN) covering the entire continental United States are presented. These characteristics include the total cloud-to-ground flash density, the positive flash density, the percentage of positive flashes, the first stroke negative and positive peak currents, and the multiplicity for negative and positive flashes. All analyses were done with a spatial resolution of 0.2° corresponding to an approximate resolution of 20 km. Flash densities were not corrected for detection efficiency; the measured values are presented. The maximum measured flash density is found to exceed 9 flashes km−2 across Florida in the Tampa–Orlando–Cape Canaveral corridor, near Fort Myers, and between Lake Okeechobee and the Atlantic Ocean. The mean monthly flash count peaks in July at approximately 5.5 million flashes. Positive flash density maxima, greater than 0.4 flashes km−2 occur in southern Florida; Houston, Texas; and along the Texas–Louisiana border. A broad region of relatively high positive density also occurs throughout the Midwest. The mean monthly positive flash count peaks in June and July at approximately 240 000 flashes in each month.

The annual mean percentage of lightning that lowered positive charge was highest in the upper Midwest, exceeding 10% or 20% throughout most of the region. High percentages are also characteristic along the West Coast. The annual percentage of positive lightning has increased from 3% in 1989 to approximately 9% in 1998. The authors believe the increase is the result of improved sensor detection capability in the past decade. The mean monthly percentage of positive lightning flashes ranged from 4% in August to 17% in December for the decade. The annual median negative peak current ranged from 30 kA in 1989, decreasing steadily to about 20 kA in 1998. The annual median positive peak current ranged from 55 kA in 1989 decreasing to about 22 kA in 1998. The annual median peak negative and positive currents have approximately the same value since 1995, the first year after the NLDN upgrade. The monthly median first stroke peak currents for the decade peak in the winter and reach a minimum in May (positive current) and July (negative current). The mean monthly negative multiplicity for the decade ranges from 2.1 in February to 2.5 from June to October. The mean monthly positive multiplicity is approximately 1.2 throughout the year. The diurnal variation of the maximum flash rate over land was examined and found to peak during 1200–2000 local time (LT) with an exception for the upper Midwest, which peaked during 2000–0400 LT. Over water surrounding the continental United States, the lightning flash rate peaks primarily in the morning hours from 0400 to 1200 LT.

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Gary R. Huffines and Richard E. Orville

Abstract

The mean annual flash density, thunderstorm duration, and flash rates were calculated using 121.7 million cloud-to-ground lightning flashes in the continental United States for the period 1989–96. Florida had flash densities over 11 flashes km−2 yr−1, while the Midwest, Oklahoma, Texas, and the Gulf Coast had densities greater than 7 flashes km−2 yr−1. There was a relative minimum in flash density (three flashes km−2 yr−1) in the Appalachian Mountains and Missouri. Thunderstorm duration values exceeded 120 h yr−1 in Florida and 105 h yr−1 in New Mexico, Arizona, and the Gulf Coast. The maximum annual flash rates exceeded 45 flashes h−1 in the Midwest, along the Florida coasts, and along the mid-Atlantic coast with the minimum flash rates, 15 flashes h−1, over the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains. The relationship between thunderstorm duration and flash density is Flash_Density = 0.024(Flash_Hours)1.29 producing expected flash densities that are within 30% of the measured densities for over 70% of the nation, with the greatest errors, over 80%, in the intermountain region of the Rockies.

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Richard E. Orville, Gary R. Huffines, William R. Burrows, Ronald L. Holle, and Kenneth L. Cummins

Abstract

Cloud-to-ground lightning data have been analyzed for the years 1998–2000 for North America (Canada plus the contiguous United States) for all ground flashes, positive flashes, the percentage of positive lightning, peak currents for negative and positive lightning, and for negative and positive multiplicity. The authors examined a total of 88.7 million flashes divided among the three years: 31.1 million (1998), 29.5 million (1999), and 28.2 million (2000). Annual flash densities are derived from 245–424 km2 regions and are uncorrected for flash detection efficiency. The highest flash densities in Canada are along the U.S.–Canadian border (1–3 flashes km−2), and in the United States along the Gulf of Mexico coast and Florida (exceeding 9 flashes km−2). Maximum annual positive flash densities in Canada generally range primarily from 0.1 to 0.3 flashes km−2, and in the United States to over 0.7 flashes km−2 (areas in the Midwest, the Gulf Coast, and Florida). Areas of greater than 20% positive lightning occur throughout British Columbia and the midwest United States extending into Manitoba and Ontario. High percent positive also occurs in Quebec and much of eastern Canada. The median negative peak current is 16.5 kA. The median positive peak current, with the peak currents less than 10 kA removed from the calculation, is 19.8 kA. Median positive peak currents exceed 35 kA in the Midwest from west Texas to Nebraska to the Canadian border. The area of maximum mean negative multiplicity, exceeding 2.6 strokes, occurs in western Canada from just east of the British Columbia–Alberta border to and including Saskatchewan. Mean negative multiplicity also peaks in the southeastern United States. Mean positive multiplicity is observed to have maximum values in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and in a region centered on Tennessee. The authors examined the time of maximum flash rate in North America and find it is over land in the daytime hours with the exception of a region of maximum nighttime lightning in midcontinent that extends from the midwestern United States into Canada. Over the waters surrounding the North American continent, the maximum lightning is principally at night, including the coastal Pacific, the Gulf of California, the Gulf of Mexico, and the coastal waters of the North Atlantic.

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Richard E. Orville, Gary R. Huffines, William R. Burrows, and Kenneth L. Cummins

Abstract

Cloud-to-ground (CG) lightning data have been analyzed for the years 2001–09 for North America, which includes Alaska, Canada, and the lower 48 U.S. states. Flashes recorded within the North American Lightning Detection Network (NALDN) are examined. No corrections for detection efficiency variability are made over the 9 yr of the dataset or over the large geographical area comprising North America. There were network changes in the NALDN during the 9 yr, but these changes have not been corrected for nor have the recorded data been altered in any way with the exception that all positive lightning reports with peak currents less than 15 kA have been deleted. Thus, the reader should be aware that secular changes are not just climatological in nature. All data were analyzed with a spatial resolution of 20 km. The analyses presented in this work provide a synoptic view of the interannual variability of lightning observations in North America, including the impacts of physical changes in the network during the 9 yr of study. These data complement and extend previous analyses that evaluate the U.S. NLDN during periods of upgrade. The total (negative and positive) flashes for ground flash density, the percentage of positive lightning, and the positive flash density have been analyzed. Furthermore, the negative and positive first stroke peak currents and the flash multiplicity have been examined. The highest flash densities in Canada are along the U.S.–Canadian border (1–2 flashes per square kilometer) and in the United States along the Gulf of Mexico coast from Texas through Florida (exceeding 14 flashes per square kilometer in Florida). The Gulf Stream is “outlined” by higher flash densities off the east coast of the United States. Maximum annual positive flash densities in Canada range primarily from 0.01 to 0.3 flashes per square kilometer, and in the United States to over 0.5 flashes per square kilometer in the Midwest and in the states of Louisiana and Mississippi. The annual percentage of positive lightning to ground varies from less than 2% over Florida to values exceeding 25% off the West Coast, Alaska, and the Yukon. A localized maximum in the percentage of positive lightning in the NALDN occurs in Manitoba and western Ontario, just north of North Dakota and Minnesota.

When averaged over North America, first stroke negative median peak currents range from 19.8 kA in 2001 to 16.0 kA in 2009 and for all years, average 16.1 kA. First stroke positive median peak currents range from a high of 29.0 kA in 2008 and 2009 to a low of 23.3 kA in 2003 with a median of 25.7 kA for all years. There is a relatively sharp transition from low to high median negative peak currents along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts of the United States. No sharp transitions are observed for the median positive peak currents. Relatively lower positive peak currents occur throughout the southeastern United States. The highest values of mean negative multiplicity exceed 3.0 strokes per flash in the NALDN with some variation over the 9 yr. Lower values of mean negative multiplicity occur in the western United States. Positive flash mean multiplicity is slightly higher than 1.1, with the highest values of 1.7 observed in the southwestern states. As has been noted in prior research, CG lightning has significant variations from storm to storm as well as between geographical regions and/or seasons and, consequently, a single distribution for any lightning parameter, such as multiplicity or peak current, may not be sufficient to represent or describe the parameter.

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Walter A. Lyons, Steven A. Cummer, Mark. A. Stanley, Gary R. Huffines, Kyle C. Wiens, and Thomas E. Nelson

Over a decade of monitoring mesospheric transient luminous events (TLEs) above U.S. high plains storms confirmed sprites are almost exclusively associated with positive polarity cloud-to-ground lightning (+CGs). Following C. T. R. Wilson's theory proposed in 1925, only those +CGs lowering large amounts of charge to ground should induce sprites. The key metric, the charge moment change, generally must exceed ~600 C km to initiate the electric breakdown at 75 km, which evolves into the sprite. High plains storms generate the highest percentage, the largest average peak current, and highest density of +CGs in the nation. Various storm types generate +CGs, and especially supercells are often dominated by positive strokes. Few sprites observations above supercells have been obtained (and usually during their decaying phase), while thousands of sprites have been imaged above mesoscale convective system (MCS) stratiform regions and some squall lines. During the 2000 Severe Thunderstorm Electrification and Precipitation Study (STEPS), two supercells were examined. One storm contained >90% +CGs, but none exceeded the sprite charge moment change threshold. A second nocturnal supercell did produce sprites from the last two +CGs of the storm as a stratiform region developed, more favorable for significant continuing currents to follow the +CG return stroke. Unexpectedly, three sprites occurring during the most intense phase of the storm were triggered by unusually intense and impulsive +CGs, which lowered sufficient charge in the return stroke alone for sprite initiation. Such +CGs, and thus sprites, are probably relatively rare events during the supercell mature stage.

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