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Eric C. Bruning and Donald R. MacGorman

Abstract

Previous analyses of very high frequency (VHF) Lightning Mapping Array (LMA) observations relative to the location of deep convective updrafts have noted a systematic pattern in flash characteristics. In and near strong updrafts, flashes tend to be smaller and more frequent, while flashes far from strong vertical drafts exhibit the opposite tendency. This study quantitatively tests these past anecdotal observations using LMA data for two supercell storms that occurred in Oklahoma in 2004. The data support a prediction from electrostatics that frequent breakdown and large flash extents are opposed. An energetic scaling that combines flash rate and flash area exhibits a power-law scaling regime on scales of a few kilometers and a maximum in flash energy at about 10 km. The spectral shape is surprisingly consistent across a range of moderate to large flash rates. The shape of this lightning flash energy spectrum is similar to that expected of turbulent kinetic energy spectra in thunderstorms. In line with the hypothesized role of convective motions as the generator of thunderstorm electrical energy, the correspondence between kinematic and electrical energy spectra suggests that advection of charge-bearing precipitation by the storm’s flow, including in turbulent eddies, couples the electrical and kinematic properties of a thunderstorm.

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Vicente Salinas, Eric C. Bruning, and Edward R. Mansell

Abstract

Lightning is frequently initiated within the convective regions of thunderstorms, and so flash rates tend to follow trends in updraft speed and volume. It has been suggested that lightning production is linked to the turbulent flow generated by updrafts as turbulent eddies organize charged hydrometeors into complex charge structures. These complex charge structures consist of local regions of increased charge magnitudes between which flash initiating electric fields may be generated. How turbulent kinematics influences lightning production, however, remains unclear. In this study, lightning flashes produced in a multi-cell and two supercell storms simulated using The Collaborative Model for Multiscale Atmospheric Simulation (COMMAS) were examined to identify the kinematic flow structures within which they occurred. By relating the structures of updrafts to thermals, initiated lightning were expected to be located where the rate of strain and rotational flow are equal, or between updraft and eddy flow features. Results showed that the average lightning flash is initiated in kinematic flow structures dominated by vortical flow patterns, similar to those of thermals, and the structures’ kinematics are characterized by horizontal vorticity and vertical shearing. These kinematic features were common across all cases and demonstrated that where flash initiating electric fields are generated is along the periphery of updrafts where turbulent eddies are produced. Careful consideration of flow structures near initiated flashes is consistent with those of thermals rising through a storm.

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Matthew D. Brothers, Eric C. Bruning, and Edward R. Mansell

Abstract

Large-eddy-resolving simulations using the Collaborative Model for Multiscale Atmospheric Simulation (COMMAS), which contains microphysical charging and branched-lightning parameterizations, produce much more complex net charge structures than conventionally visualized from previous observations, simulations, and conceptual diagrams. Many processes contribute to the hydrometeor charge budget within a thunderstorm, including advection, hydrometeor differential sedimentation, subgrid turbulent mixing and diffusion, ion drift, microphysical separation, and the attachment of ion charge deposited by the lightning channel. The lightning deposition, sedimentation, and noninductive charging tendencies contribute the most overall charge at relatively large scales, while the advection tendency, from resolved turbulence, provides the most “texture” at small scales to the net charge density near the updraft region of the storm. The scale separation increases for stronger storm simulations. In aggregate, lightning deposition and sedimentation resemble the smoother distribution of the electric potential, while evidence suggests individual flashes could be responding to the fine texture in the net charge. The clear scale separation between the advection and other net charge tendencies suggest the charge advection is most capable of providing net charge texture; however, a clear-cut causality is not obtained from this study.

Open access
Vicente Salinas, Eric C. Bruning, Edward R. Mansell, and Matthew Brothers

Abstract

This study employed a parallel-plate capacitor model by which the electrostatic energy of lightning flashes could be estimated by considering only their physical dimensions and breakdown electric fields in two simulated storms. The capacitor model has previously been used to approximate total storm electrostatic energy but is modified here to use the geometry of individual lightning flashes to mimic the local charge configuration where flashes were initiated. The energy discharged may then be diagnosed without context of a storm’s entire charge structure. The capacitor model was evaluated using simulated flashes from two storms modeled by the National Severe Storms Laboratory’s Collaborative Model for Multiscale Atmospheric Simulation (COMMAS). Initial capacitor model estimates followed the temporal evolution of the flash discharge energy of COMMAS for each storm but demonstrated the need to account for an adjustment factor μ c to represent the fraction of energy a flash dissipates, as this model assumes the entire preflash energy is discharged by a flash. Individual values of μ c were obtained simply by using the ratio of the COMMAS flash to capacitor energy. Median values μ˜c were selected to represent the flash populations for each storm, and were in range of μ˜c=0.0190.021. Application of μ˜c aligned the magnitudes of the capacitor model discharge energy estimates to those of COMMAS and to those estimated in previous studies. Therefore, by considering a μ c within range of μ˜c, application of the capacitor model for observed lightning datasets is suggested.

Open access
Edward R. Mansell, Conrad L. Ziegler, and Eric C. Bruning

Abstract

Electrification and lightning are simulated for a small continental multicell storm. The results are consistent with observations and thus provide additional understanding of the charging processes and evolution of this storm. The first six observed lightning flashes were all negative cloud-to-ground (CG) flashes, after which intracloud (IC) flashes also occurred between middle and upper levels of the storm. The model simulation reproduces the basic evolution of lightning from low and middle levels to upper levels. The observed lightning indicated an initial charge structure of at least an inverted dipole (negative charge above positive). The simulations show that noninductive charge separation higher in the storm can enhance the main negative charge sufficiently to produce negative CG flashes before upper-level IC flashes commence. The result is a “bottom-heavy” tripole charge structure with midlevel negative charge and a lower positive charge region that is more significant than the upper positive region, in contrast to the traditional tripole structure that has a less significant lower positive charge region. Additionally, the occurrence of cloud-to-ground lightning is not necessarily a result of excess net charge carried by the storm, but it is primarily caused by the local potential imbalance between the lowest charge regions.

The two-moment microphysics scheme used for this study predicted mass mixing ratio and number concentration of cloud droplets, rain, ice crystals, snow, and graupel. Bulk particle density of graupel was also predicted, which allows a single category to represent a greater range of particle characteristics. (An additional hail category is available but was not needed for the present study.) The prediction of hydrometeor number concentration is particularly critical for charge separation at higher temperatures (−5° < T < −20°C) in the mixed phase region, where ice crystals are produced by rime fracturing (Hallett–Mossop process) and by splintering of freezing drops. Cloud droplet concentration prediction also affected the rates of inductive charge separation between graupel and droplets.

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Stephanie A. Weiss, Donald R. MacGorman, Eric C. Bruning, and Vanna C. Chmielewski

Abstract

Lightning Mapping Arrays (LMAs) detect very high frequency (VHF) radiation produced by lightning as it propagates; however, VHF source detection efficiency drops off rapidly with range from the centers of the arrays, which results in a maximum of source points over the center of the network for large datasets. Using data from nearly one billion detected sources of various powers, an approximation of VHF source detection efficiency (relative to the number of sources detected within 25 km of the center of the array) for the Oklahoma LMA is calculated for different ranges and source powers. The calculated source detection efficiencies are then used to normalize the VHF source data out to a range of 125 km, as a method for correcting the detection efficiency drop-off with range. The data are also sorted into flashes using a popular flash-sorting algorithm in order to compare how well flash sorting corrects for detection efficiency drop-off with range compared to the normalization method. Both methods produce similar patterns and maxima of the lightning location, but the differences between them are identified and highlighted. The use of a flash-sorting algorithm is recommended for future studies involving large sets of data.

Open access
Kelley M. Murphy, Eric C. Bruning, Christopher J. Schultz, and Jennifer K. Vanos

Abstract

A lightning risk assessment for application to human safety was created and applied in 10 west Texas locations from 2 May 2016 to 30 September 2016. The method combined spatial lightning mapping data, probabilistic risk calculation adapted from the International Electrotechnical Commission Standard 62305-2, and weighted average interpolation to produce risk magnitudes that were compared with tolerability thresholds to issue lightning warnings. These warnings were compared with warnings created for the same dataset using a more standard lightning safety approach that was based on National Lightning Detection Network (NLDN) total lightning within 5 n mi (1 n mi = 1.852 km) of each location. Four variations of the calculation as well as different units of risk were tested to find the optimal configuration to calculate risk to an isolated human outdoors. The best-performing risk configuration using risk (10 min)−1 or larger produced the most comparable results to the standard method, such as number of failures, average warning duration, and total time under warnings. This risk configuration produced fewer failures than the standard method but longer total time under warnings and higher false alarm ratios. Median lead times associated with the risk configuration were longer than the standard method for all units considered, whereas median down times were shorter for risk (10 min)−1 and risk (15 min)−1. Overall, the risk method provides a baseline framework to quantify the changing lightning hazard on the storm scale and could be a useful tool to aid in lightning decision support scenarios.

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Stephanie A. Weiss, W. David Rust, Donald R. MacGorman, Eric C. Bruning, and Paul R. Krehbiel

Abstract

Data from a three-dimensional lightning mapping array (LMA) and from two soundings by balloon-borne electric field meters (EFMs) were used to analyze the electrical structures of a multicell storm observed on 25 June 2000 during the Severe Thunderstorm Electrification and Precipitation Study (STEPS). This storm had a complex, multicell structure with four sections, each of whose electrical structure differed from that of the others during all or part of the analyzed period. The number of vertically stacked charge regions in any given section of the storm ranged from two to six. The most complex charge and lightning structures occurred in regions with the highest reflectivity values and the deepest reflectivity cores. Intracloud flashes tended to concentrate in areas with large radar reflectivity values, though some propagated across more than one core of high reflectivity or into the low-reflectivity anvil. Intracloud lightning flash rates decreased as the vertical extent and maximum value of reflectivity cores decreased. Cloud-to-ground flash rates increased as cores of high reflectivity descended to low altitudes. Most cloud-to-ground flashes were positive. All observed positive ground flashes initiated between the lowest-altitude negative charge region and a positive charge region just above it. The storm’s complexity makes it hard to classify the vertical polarity of its overall charge structure, but most of the storm had a different vertical polarity than what is typically observed outside the Great Plains. The electrical structure can vary considerably from storm to storm, or even within the same storm, as in the present case.

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Milind Sharma, Robin L. Tanamachi, Eric C. Bruning, and Kristin M. Calhoun

Abstract

We demonstrate the utility of transient polarimetric signatures (Z DR and K DP columns, a proxy for surges in a thunderstorm updraft) to explain variability in lightning flash rates in a tornadic supercell. Observational data from a WSR-88D and the Oklahoma lightning mapping array are used to map the temporal variance of polarimetric signatures and VHF sources from lightning channels. It is shown, via three-dimensional and cross-sectional analyses, that the storm was of inverted polarity resulting from anomalous electrification. Statistical analysis confirms that mean flash area in the Z DR column region was 10 times smaller than elsewhere in the storm. On an average, 5 times more flash initiations occurred within Z DR column regions, thereby supporting existing theory of an inverse relationship between flash initiation rates and lightning channel extent. Segmentation and object identification algorithms are applied to gridded radar data to calculate metrics such as height, width, and volume of Z DR and K DP columns. Variability in lightning flash rates is best explained by the fluctuations in Z DR column volume with a Spearman’s rank correlation coefficient value of 0.72. The highest flash rates occur in conjunction with the deepest Z DR columns (up to 5 km above environmental melting level) and largest volumes of Z DR columns extending up to the −20°C level (3 km above the melting level). Reduced flash rates toward the end of the analysis are indicative of weaker updrafts manifested as low Z DR column volumes at and above the −10°C level. These findings are consistent with recent studies linking lightning to the interplay between storm dynamics, kinematics, thermodynamics, and precipitation microphysics.

Open access
Eric C. Bruning, W. David Rust, Donald R. MacGorman, Michael I. Biggerstaff, and Terry J. Schuur

Abstract

Lightning mapping, electric field, and radar data from the 26 May 2004 supercell in central Oklahoma are used to examine the storm’s charge structure. An initial arc-shaped maximum in lightning activity on the right flank of the storm’s bounded weak echo region was composed of an elevated normal polarity tripole in the region of precipitation lofted above the storm’s weak echo region. Later in the storm, two charge structures were associated with precipitation that reached the ground. To the left of the weak echo region, six charge regions were inferred, with positive charge carried on hail at the bottom of the stack. Farther forward in the storm’s precipitation region, four charge regions were inferred, with negative charge at the bottom of the stack. There were different charge structures in adjacent regions of the storm at the same time, and regions of opposite polarity charge were horizontally adjacent at the same altitude. Flashes occasionally lowered positive charge to ground from the forward charge region. A conceptual model is presented that ties charge structure in different regions of the storm to storm structure inferred from radar reflectivity.

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