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Nicole R. Lund, Donald R. MacGorman, Terry J. Schuur, Michael I. Biggerstaff, and W. David Rust

Abstract

On 19 June 2004, the Thunderstorm Electrification and Lightning Experiment observed electrical, microphysical, and kinematic properties of a small mesoscale convective system (MCS). The primary observing systems were the Oklahoma Lightning Mapping Array, the KOUN S-band polarimetric radar, two mobile C-band Doppler radars, and balloonborne electric field meters. During its mature phase, this MCS had a normal tripolar charge structure (lightning involved a midlevel negative charge between an upper and a lower positive charge), and flash rates fluctuated between 80 and 100 flashes per minute. Most lightning was initiated within one of two altitude ranges (3–6 or 7–10 km MSL) and within the 35-dBZ contours of convective cells embedded within the convective line. The properties of two such cells were investigated in detail, with the first lasting approximately 40 min and producing only 12 flashes and the second lasting over an hour and producing 105 flashes. In both, lightning was initiated in or near regions containing graupel. The upper lightning initiation region (7–10 km MSL) was near 35–47.5-dBZ contours, with graupel inferred below and ice crystals inferred above. The lower lightning initiation region (3–6 km MSL) was in the upper part of melting or freezing layers, often near differential reflectivity columns extending above the 0°C isotherm, which is suggestive of graupel formation. Both lightning initiation regions are consistent with what is expected from the noninductive graupel–ice thunderstorm electrification mechanism, though inductive processes may also have contributed to initiations in the lower region.

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Donald R. MacGorman, Ivy R. Apostolakopoulos, Nicole R. Lund, Nicholas W. S. Demetriades, Martin J. Murphy, and Paul R. Krehbiel

Abstract

The first flash produced by a storm usually does not strike ground, but little has been published concerning the time after the first flash before a cloud-to-ground flash occurs, particularly for a variety of climatological regions. To begin addressing this issue, this study analyzed data from very-high-frequency (VHF) lightning mapping systems, which detect flashes of all types, and from the U.S. National Lightning Detection Network (NLDN), which identifies flash type and detects roughly 90% of cloud-to-ground flashes overall. VHF mapping data were analyzed from three regions: north Texas, Oklahoma, and the high plains of Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska. The percentage of storms in which a cloud-to-ground flash was detected in the first minute of lightning activity varied from 0% in the high plains to 10%–20% in Oklahoma and north Texas. The distribution of delays to the first cloud-to-ground flash varied similarly. In Oklahoma and north Texas, 50% of storms produced a cloud-to-ground flash within 5–10 min, and roughly 10% failed to produce a cloud-to-ground flash within 1 h. In the high plains, however, it required 30 min for 50% of storms to have produced a cloud-to-ground flash, and 20% produced no ground flash within 1 h. The authors suggest that the reason high plains storms take longer to produce cloud-to-ground lightning is because the formation of the lower charge needed to produce most cloud-to-ground flashes is inhibited either by delaying the formation of precipitation in the mid- and lower levels of storms or by many of the storms having an inverted-polarity electrical structure.

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Donald R. MacGorman, W. David Rust, Terry J. Schuur, Michael I. Biggerstaff, Jerry M. Straka, Conrad L. Ziegler, Edward R. Mansell, Eric C. Bruning, Kristin M. Kuhlman, Nicole R. Lund, Nicholas S. Biermann, Clark Payne, Larry D. Carey, Paul R. Krehbiel, William Rison, Kenneth B. Eack, and William H. Beasley

The field program of the Thunderstorm Electrification and Lightning Experiment (TELEX) took place in central Oklahoma, May–June 2003 and 2004. It aimed to improve understanding of the interrelationships among microphysics, kinematics, electrification, and lightning in a broad spectrum of storms, particularly squall lines and storms whose electrical structure is inverted from the usual vertical polarity. The field program was built around two permanent facilities: the KOUN polarimetric radar and the Oklahoma Lightning Mapping Array. In addition, balloon-borne electric-field meters and radiosondes were launched together from a mobile laboratory to measure electric fields, winds, and standard thermodynamic parameters inside storms. In 2004, two mobile C-band Doppler radars provided high-resolution coordinated volume scans, and another mobile facility provided the environmental soundings required for modeling studies. Data were obtained from 22 storm episodes, including several small isolated thunderstorms, mesoscale convective systems, and supercell storms. Examples are presented from three storms. A heavy-precipitation supercell storm on 29 May 2004 produced greater than three flashes per second for 1.5 h. Holes in the lightning density formed and dissipated sequentially in the very strong updraft and bounded weak echo region of the mesocyclone. In a small squall line on 19 June 2004, most lightning flashes in the stratiform region were initiated in or near strong updrafts in the convective line and involved positive charge in the upper part of the radar bright band. In a small thunderstorm on 29 June 2004, lightning activity began as polarimetric signatures of graupel first appeared near lightning initiation regions.

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