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Douglas Mach
and
Katrina Virts

Abstract

We have developed a technique to estimate the three-dimensional (3D) location of lightning optical pulses based on the stereo view of common lightning pulses from two different orbital instruments. The technique only requires the satellite position and the look vector to the lightning optical source. An example dataset of the Geostationary Lightning Mappers (GLMs) on GOES-16 and GOES-17 from 10 June 2019 is used to illustrate the technique. For this dataset, we find that the values for the stereo determination of cloud-top altitudes are on average lower by 740 m than the ones calculated from the lightning ellipsoid that is currently applied during geolocation. When we compare the locations to the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) Cloud Height Algorithm (ACHA), we find that our technique also produces slightly lower altitude values by 240 m. There is greater spread in our technique than either the lightning ellipsoid or the ABI cloud-top height that is likely due to the incorrect pairing of groups between the two GLMs and the 8–14-km resolution in the group locations. Based on GLM location errors derived from comparisons to ground truth sources, the uncertainty in the radial location determined by the stereo location technique is 5.2 km, while the altitude uncertainty is 4.0 km. The technique can be used to 3D map lightning or other optical sources such as bolides and other upper-atmospheric optical phenomena from any two orbital sensors with overlapping fields of view.

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Scott D. Rudlosky
and
Katrina S. Virts

Abstract

Two Geostationary Lightning Mappers (GLMs) now observe spatial and temporal lightning distributions over a vast region. The GOES-16 GLM covers most land areas in the Western Hemisphere, and detects ~4 times as much lightning as the GOES-17 GLM. Although the continents dominate the lightning distributions year-round, each season exhibits widespread lightning over parts of the Atlantic Ocean and within three broad regions over the Pacific. These oceanic regions demonstrate the key role convective organization plays in producing larger, longer-lasting, and more energetic flashes observed by both GLMs over the oceans. Texture within the flash densities reveals a close relationship with the underlying topography, underscored by the complex diurnal cycles observed along coastlines and in mountainous regions. GLM information beyond flash frequency provides additional insights into storm mode and evolution. For example, over the Sierra Madre Occidental, time series reveal initially small, short-duration GLM flashes growing larger and longer as storms grow upscale. These mesoscale convective systems often transition offshore, contributing to an average flash area maximum over the eastern Pacific. Data quality improves during the study period with tuning of the ground system software. GLM artifacts due to solar intrusion and sun glint greatly diminish following the blooming filter installation, and the second-level threshold filter reduces false events along particular subarray boundaries (i.e., bar artifacts). Analysis of the overlap region reveals a pronounced north–south line near 103°W, with the GOES-16 (GOES-17) GLM detecting more flashes to the east (west) of this line.

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Katrina S. Virts
and
John M. Wallace

Abstract

Satellite observations of temperature, optically thin cirrus clouds, and trace gases derived from the Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere and Climate (COSMIC), Cloud–Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observations (CALIPSO), and the Microwave Limb Sounder (MLS) are analyzed in combination with Interim European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) Re-Analysis (ERA-Interim) wind and humidity fields in the tropical tropopause transition layer (TTL), using the Madden–Julian oscillation (MJO) as a carrier signal. MJO-related deep convection induces planetary-scale Kelvin and Rossby waves in the stably stratified TTL. Regions of ascent in these waves are associated with anomalously low temperatures, high radiative heating rates, enhanced cirrus occurrence, and high carbon monoxide and low ozone concentrations. Low water vapor mixing ratio anomalies lag the low temperature anomalies by about 1–2 weeks. The anomalies in all fields propagate eastward, circumnavigating the tropical belt over a roughly 40-day interval. Equatorial cross sections reveal that the anomalies tilt eastward with height in the TTL and propagate downward from the lower stratosphere into the upper troposphere.

As MJO-related convection moves into the western Pacific and dissipates, a fast-moving Kelvin wave flanked by Rossby waves propagates eastward across South America and Africa into the western Indian Ocean. The region of equatorial westerly wind anomalies behind the Kelvin wave front lengthens until it encompasses most of the tropics at the 150-hPa level, giving rise to equatorially symmetric, anomalously low zonal-mean temperature and water vapor mixing ratio and enhanced cirrus above about 100 hPa.

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Katrina S. Virts
and
John M. Wallace

Abstract

Cloud fields based on the first three years of data from the Cloud–Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observations (CALIPSO) mission are used to investigate the relationship between cirrus within the tropical tropopause transition layer (TTL) and the Madden–Julian oscillation (MJO), the annual cycle, and El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO).

The TTL cirrus signature observed in association with the MJO resembles convectively induced, mixed Kelvin–Rossby wave solutions above the Pacific warm pool region. This signature is centered to the east of the peak convection and propagates eastward more rapidly than the convection; it exhibits a pronounced eastward tilt with height, suggestive of downward phase propagation and upward energy dispersion. A cirrus maximum is observed over equatorial Africa and South America when the enhanced MJO-related convection enters the western Pacific. Tropical-mean TTL cirrus is modulated by the MJO, with more than twice as much TTL cirrus fractional coverage equatorward of 10° latitude when the enhanced convection enters the Pacific than a few weeks earlier, when the convection is over the Indian Ocean.

The annual cycle in cirrus clouds around the base of the TTL is equatorially asymmetric, with more cirrus observed in the summer hemisphere. Higher in the TTL, the annual cycle in cirrus clouds is more equatorially symmetric, with a maximum in the boreal winter throughout most of the tropics. The ENSO signature in TTL cirrus is marked by a zonal shift of the peak cloudiness toward the central Pacific during El Niño and toward the Maritime Continent during La Niña.

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Katrina S. Virts
and
William J. Koshak

Abstract

The geolocation of lightning flashes observed by spaceborne optical sensors depends upon a priori assumptions of the cloud-top height (or, more generally, the height of the radiant emitter) as observed by the satellite. Lightning observations from the Geostationary Lightning Mappers (GLMs) on Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite 16 (GOES-16) and GOES-17 were originally geolocated by assuming that the global cloud-top height can be modeled as an ellipsoidal surface with an altitude of 16 km at the equator and sloping down to 6 km at the poles. This method produced parallax errors of 20–30 km or more near the limb, where GLM can detect side-cloud illumination or below-cloud lightning channels at lower altitudes than assumed by the ellipsoid. Based on analysis of GLM location accuracy using a suite of alternate lightning ellipsoids, a lower ellipsoid (14 km at the equator, 6 km at the poles) was implemented in October and December 2018 for GLM-16 and GLM-17, respectively. While the lower ellipsoid slightly improves overall GLM location accuracy, parallax-related errors remain, particularly near the limb. This study describes the identification of optimized assumed emitter heights, defined as those that produce the closest agreement with the ground-based reference networks. Derived using the first year of observations from GOES-East position, the optimal emitter height varies geographically and seasonally in a manner consistent with known meteorological regimes. Application of the optimal emitter height approximately doubles the fraction of area near the limb for which peak location errors are less than half a GLM pixel.

Open access
Katrina S. Virts
and
William J. Koshak

Abstract

Performance assessments of the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) are conducted via comparisons with independent observations from both satellite-based sensors and ground-based lightning detection (reference) networks. A key limitation of this evaluation is that the performance of the reference networks is both imperfect and imperfectly known, such that the true performance of GLM can only be estimated. Key GLM performance metrics such as detection efficiency (DE) and false alarm rate (FAR) retrieved through comparison with reference networks are affected by those networks’ own DE, FAR, and spatiotemporal accuracy, as well as the flash matching criteria applied in the analysis. This study presents a Monte Carlo simulation–based inversion technique that is used to quantify how accurately the reference networks can assess GLM performance, as well as suggest the optimal matching criteria for estimating GLM performance. This is accomplished by running simulations that clarify the specific effect of reference network quality (i.e., DE, FAR, spatiotemporal accuracy, and the geographical patterns of these attributes) on the retrieved GLM performance metrics. Baseline reference network statistics are derived from the Earth Networks Global Lightning Network (ENGLN) and the Global Lightning Dataset (GLD360). Geographic simulations indicate that the retrieved GLM DE is underestimated, with absolute errors ranging from 11% to 32%, while the retrieved GLM FAR is overestimated, with absolute errors of approximately 16% to 44%. GLM performance is most severely underestimated in the South Pacific. These results help quantify and bound the actual performance of GLM and the attendant uncertainties when comparing GLM to imperfect reference networks.

Open access
Katrina S. Virts
and
Robert A. Houze Jr.

Abstract

Seasonal and intraseasonal differences in mesoscale convective systems (MCSs) over South Asia are examined using A-Train satellites, a ground-based lightning network, and reanalysis fields. Premonsoon (April–May) MCSs occur primarily over Bangladesh and the eastern Bay of Bengal. During the monsoon (June–September), small MCSs occur over the Meghalaya Plateau and northeast Himalayan notch, while large and connected MCSs are most widespread over the Bay of Bengal. Monsoon MCSs produce less lightning and exhibit more extensive stratiform and anvil reflectivity structures in CloudSat observations than do premonsoon MCSs.

During the monsoon, Bay of Bengal and Meghalaya Plateau MCSs vary with the 30–60-day northward-propagating intraseasonal oscillation, while northeast Himalayan notch MCSs are associated with weak large-scale anomalies but locally enhanced CAPE. During intraseasonal active periods, a zone of enhanced large and connected MCSs, precipitation, and lightning extends from the northeastern Arabian Sea southeastward over India and the Bay of Bengal, flanked by suppressed anomalies. Spatial variability is observed within this enhancement zone: lightning is most enhanced where MCSs are less enhanced, and vice versa. Reanalysis composites indicate that Bay of Bengal MCSs are associated with monsoon depressions, which are frequent during active monsoon periods, while Meghalaya Plateau MCSs are most frequent at the end of break periods, as anomalous southwesterly winds strengthen moist advection toward the terrain. Over both regions, MCSs exhibit more extensive stratiform and anvil regions and less lightning when the large-scale environment is moister, and vice versa.

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Katrina S. Virts
and
Robert A. Houze Jr.

Abstract

Observations from A-Train satellites and other datasets show that mesoscale convective systems (MCSs) affect the water vapor and ice content of the tropical tropopause transition layer (TTL). The largest MCSs with radar reflectivity characteristics consistent with the presence of large stratiform and anvil regions have the greatest impact. Most MCSs are associated with clouds in the TTL. Composites in MCS-relative coordinates indicate enhanced cloudiness and ice water content (IWC) extending toward the cold-point tropopause (CPT), particularly in large and connected MCSs. Widespread anvils in the lower TTL are evident in the peak cloudiness diverging outward at those levels. Upper-tropospheric water vapor concentrations are enhanced near MCSs. Close to the centers of MCSs, water vapor is suppressed at TTL base, likely because of the combined effects of reduced moistening or dehydration at the higher TTL relative humidities and subsidence above cloud top. Weak moistening is observed near the CPT, consistent with sublimation of ice crystals at the tops of the deepest MCSs. In the outflow region, moistening is observed in the lower TTL near the largest MCSs. Enhanced water vapor in the upper troposphere and lower TTL extends beyond the area of substantially enhanced cloudiness and IWC, in agreement with the observed radial outflow, indicating that MCSs are injecting water vapor into the environment and consistent with the possibility that MCS development may be favored by a premoistened environment.

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Katrina S. Virts
and
Robert A. Houze Jr.

Abstract

Characteristics of mesoscale convective systems (MCSs) in regions affected by the Madden–Julian oscillation (MJO) are investigated using a database of MCSs observed by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer for Earth Observing System (AMSR-E). Lightning occurrence detected by the World-Wide Lightning Location Network (WWLLN) is composited in a framework centered on the MCSs. During MJO active periods, MCSs are more numerous and larger, as the convective features persist and attain greater horizontal scales. Anomalies of the lifted index, derived from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) interim reanalysis (ERA-Interim) fields, indicate that MCS environments are more stable during MJO active periods.

Over the Indian Ocean, Maritime Continent, and western Pacific, lightning density in an MCS maximizes during the time that the total number of systems begins to increase as the MJO is beginning to be more active, implying both more vigorous convection and less extensive stratiform rain areas at this transitional time of the MJO. The peak in MJO precipitation coincides with peak occurrence of interconnected MCSs with larger stratiform rain fraction, shown by the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission satellite, while composites of lightning frequency show that during MJO active periods the zone of lightning is contracted around the centers of MCSs, and flashes are less frequent.

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Katrina S. Virts
and
Steven J. Goodman

Abstract

The Lake Victoria basin of East Africa is home to over 30 million people, over 200 000 of whom are employed in fishing or transportation on the lake. Approximately 3000–5000 individuals are killed by thunderstorms yearly, primarily by outflow winds and resulting large waves. Prolific lightning activity and thunderstorm initiation in the basin are examined using continuous total lightning observations from the Earth Networks Global Lightning Network (ENGLN) for September 2014–August 2018. Seasonal shifts in the intertropical convergence zone produce semiannual lightning maxima over the lake. Diurnally, solar heating and lake and valley breezes produce daytime lightning maxima north and east of the lake, while at night the peak lightning density propagates southwestward across the lake. Cluster analysis reveals terrain-related thunderstorm initiation hot spots northeast of the lake; clusters also initiate over the lake and northern lowlands. The most prolific clusters initiate between 1100 and 1400 LT, about 1–2 h earlier than the average cluster. Most daytime thunderstorms dissipate without reaching Lake Victoria, and annually 85% of clusters producing over 1000 flashes over Lake Victoria initiate in situ. Initiation times of prolific Lake Victoria clusters exhibit a bimodal seasonal cycle: equinox-season thunderstorms initiate most frequently between 2200 and 0400 LT, while solstice-season thunderstorms initiate most frequently from 0500 to 0800 LT, more than 12 h after the afternoon convective peak over land. More extreme clusters are more likely to have formed over land and propagated over the lake, including 36 of the 100 most extreme Lake Victoria thunderstorms. These mesoscale clusters are most common during February–April and October–November.

Open access