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Dennis J. Boccippio, William J. Koshak, and Richard J. Blakeslee

Abstract

Laboratory calibration and observed background radiance data are used to determine the effective sensitivities of the Optical Transient Detector (OTD) and Lightning Imaging Sensor (LIS), as functions of local hour and pixel location within the instrument arrays. The effective LIS thresholds, expressed as radiances emitted normal to cloud top, are 4.0 ± 0.7 and 7.6 ± 3.3 μJ sr−1 m−2 for night and local noon; the OTD thresholds are 11.7 ± 2.2 and 16.8 ± 4.6 μJ sr−1 m−2. LIS and OTD minimum signal-to-noise ratios occur from 0800 to 1600 local time, and attain values of 10 ± 2 and 20 ± 3, respectively. False alarm rate due to instrument noise yields ∼5 false triggers per month for LIS, and is negligible for OTD. Flash detection efficiency, based on prior optical pulse sensor measurements, is predicted to be 93 ± 4% and 73 ± 11% for LIS night and noon; 56 ± 7% and 44 ± 9% for OTD night and noon, corresponding to a 12%–20% diurnal variability and LIS:OTD ratio of 1.7. Use of the weighted daily mean detection efficiency (i.e., not controlling for local hour) corresponds to σ = 8%–9% uncertainty. These are likely overestimates of actual flash detection efficiency due to differences in pixel ground field of view across the instrument arrays that are not accounted for in the validation optical pulse sensor data.

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Robert Gall, Richard Blakeslee, and Richard C. J. Somerville

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Because the linear growth rates of baroclinic waves on realistic zonal flows are largest at relatively high zonal wavenumbers (e.g., 15), the observed peaks in the transient kinetic energy spectrum cannot be explained simply by peaks in the linear growth-rate spectrum. When the growth-rate spectrum is fairly flat, as suggested by recent studies, then as the waves evolve, the decrease of the instability of the zonal flow and the increase of dissipation in the developing waves become important in determining which wavelength will dominate after the waves are fully developed. In particular, the stabilization of the zonal flow because of northward and upward eddy transport (which is primarily confined to the lower troposphere in all baroclinic waves) causes the instability of the short baroclinic waves (wavenumber > 10) to decrease more rapidly than that of the intermediate-scale waves (wavenumber <10). In addition, as it is usually modeled, dissipation increases with time more rapidly in the short waves. Therefore, the growth of the short waves is terminated by these two processes before the growth of the intermediate-scale waves, which can thus achieve greater equilibrium amplitudes.

We have obtained these results in a numerical experiment with a simplified general circulation model, in which waves of all wavelengths are allowed to develop simultaneously from small random perturbations on a flow that is initially zonally symmetric. The kinetic energy spectrum in this experiment does not display a −3 power law in the wavenumber band 10–20, even after the spectrum in this spectral region has been equilibrated for a simulated week or more. This result apparently supports the recent hypothesis of Andrews and Hoskins that atmospheric fronts rather than quasi-geostrophic turbulence are responsible for the observed −3 spectrum at wavenumbers > 10.

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Robert Gall, Richard Blakeslee, and Richard C. J. Somerville

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A numerical experiment is carried out with a simplified general circulation model. In this experiment, instabilities of all wavelengths are allowed to develop simultaneously from small perturbations on a zonally symmetric flow. The initial development of the ultralong waves in this experiment is apparently forced by the interaction between the cyclone-scale waves and the basic flow in which they are embedded. Because the spectrum of the developing baroclinic waves is not monochromatic, the interaction between the cyclones and the basic flow varies with longitude, and waves longer than the cyclone scale are forced. The structure of the ultralong waves in the numerical experiment is consistent with this forcing mechanism. One implication for numerical weather prediction is that errors in forecasts of ultralong waves may be due in part to errors in the cyclone scale.

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Daniel J. Cecil, Dennis E. Buechler, and Richard J. Blakeslee

Abstract

The Lightning Imaging Sensor (LIS) on the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite has previously been used to build climatologies of mean lightning flash rate across the global tropics and subtropics. This new work explores climatologies of thunderstorm occurrence as seen by LIS and the conditional mean flash rates when thunderstorms do occur. The region where thunderstorms are seen most often by LIS extends slightly farther east in central Africa than the corresponding region with the highest total mean annual flash rates. Presumably this reflects a difference between more frequent thunderstorm initiation in the east and upscale growth as storms move westward. There are some differences between locations with the greatest total lightning flash counts and those where thunderstorms occur most often. The greatest conditional mean flash rates—considering only those TRMM orbits that do have lightning in a given grid box—are found in subtropical regions. The highest values are in Argentina, with the central United States, Pakistan, eastern China, and the east coast of Australia also having particularly high values.

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Rachel I. Albrecht, Steven J. Goodman, Dennis E. Buechler, Richard J. Blakeslee, and Hugh J. Christian

Abstract

Previous total lightning climatology studies using Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) Lightning Imaging Sensor (LIS) observations were reported at coarse resolution (0.5°) and employed significant spatial and temporal smoothing to account for sampling limitations of TRMM’s tropical to subtropical low-Earth-orbit coverage. The analysis reported here uses a 16-yr reprocessed dataset to create a very high-resolution (0.1°) climatology with no further spatial averaging. This analysis reveals that Earth’s principal lightning hotspot occurs over Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela, while the highest flash rate density hotspot previously found at the lower 0.5°-resolution sampling was found in the Congo basin in Africa. Lake Maracaibo’s pattern of convergent windflow (mountain–valley, lake, and sea breezes) occurs over the warm lake waters nearly year-round and contributes to nocturnal thunderstorm development 297 days per year on average. These thunderstorms are very localized, and their persistent development anchored in one location accounts for the high flash rate density. Several other inland lakes with similar conditions, that is, deep nocturnal convection driven by locally forced convergent flow over a warm lake surface, are also revealed.

Africa is the continent with the most lightning hotspots, followed by Asia, South America, North America, and Australia. A climatological map of the local hour of maximum flash rate density reveals that most oceanic total lightning maxima are related to nocturnal thunderstorms, while continental lightning tends to occur during the afternoon. Most of the principal continental maxima are located near major mountain ranges, revealing the importance of local topography in thunderstorm development.

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Christopher J. Schultz, Lawrence D. Carey, Elise V. Schultz, and Richard J. Blakeslee

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A detailed case study analysis of four thunderstorms is performed using polarimetric and multi-Doppler capabilities to provide specificity on the physical and dynamical drivers behind lightning jumps. The main differences between small increases in the total flash rate and a lightning jump are the increases in graupel mass and updraft volumes ≥10 m s−1 between the −10° and −40°C isotherms. Updraft volumes ≥10 m s−1 increased in magnitude at least 3–5 min in advance of the increase in both graupel mass and total flash rate. Updraft volumes ≥10 m s−1 are more robustly correlated to total flash rate than maximum updraft speed over a thunderstorm’s entire life cycle. However, peak updraft speeds increase prior to 8 of the 12 lightning jumps examined. Decreases in mean and median flash footprint size during increases in total lightning are observed in all four thunderstorms and are most notable during development stages within the most intense storms. However, this inverse relationship breaks down on larger storm scales as storms mature and anvils and stratiform regions developed with time. Promisingly, smaller flash sizes are still collocated with the strongest updraft speeds, while larger flash sizes are observed within weaker updraft regions. The results herein emphasize the following for lightning jump applications: both the lightning jump sigma level and the resultant magnitude of the total flash rate must be employed in conjunction to assess storm intensity using lightning data. The sigma-level magnitude of the lightning jump is the early warning that indicates that rapid intensification is occurring, while the magnitude of the total flash rate provides insight into the size and maintenance of the updraft volume and graupel mass. These cases serve as conceptual models for future applications of the lightning jump algorithm for hazardous weather monitoring.

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Christopher J. Schultz, Lawrence D. Carey, Elise V. Schultz, and Richard J. Blakeslee

Abstract

Thirty-nine thunderstorms are examined using multiple-Doppler, polarimetric, and total lightning observations to understand the role of mixed-phase kinematics and microphysics in the development of lightning jumps. This sample size is larger than those of previous studies on this topic. The principal result of this study is that lightning jumps are a result of mixed-phase updraft intensification. Larger increases in intense updraft volume (≥10 m s−1) and larger changes in peak updraft speed are observed prior to lightning jump occurrence when compared to other nonjump increases in total flash rate. Wilcoxon–Mann–Whitney rank sum testing yields p values ≤ 0.05, indicating statistical independence between lightning jump and nonjump distributions for these two parameters. Similar changes in mixed-phase graupel mass magnitude are observed prior to lightning jumps and nonjump increases in total flash rate. The p value for the graupel mass change is p = 0.096, so jump and nonjump distributions for the graupel mass change are not found to be statistically independent using the p = 0.05 significance level. The timing of updraft volume, speed, and graupel mass increases is found to be 4–13 min in advance of lightning jump occurrence. Also, severe storms without lightning jumps lack robust mixed-phase updrafts, demonstrating that mixed-phase updrafts are not always a requirement for severe weather occurrence. Therefore, the results of this study show that lightning jump occurrences are coincident with larger increases in intense mixed-phase updraft volume and peak updraft speed than smaller nonjump increases in total flash rate.

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Walter A. Petersen, Stephen W. Nesbitt, Richard J. Blakeslee, Robert Cifelli, Paul Hein, and Stephen A. Rutledge

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This study utilizes the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite precipitation radar (PR), lightning imaging sensor (LIS), and passive microwave imager (TMI) data together with ground-based lightning data to investigate the vertical structure, lightning, and rainfall characteristics of Amazonian and subtropical South American convection for three separate wet seasons. These characteristics are partitioned as a function of 850-mb zonal wind direction, motivated by observations collected during the 6-week TRMM–Large-scale Biosphere–Atmosphere Experiment in Amazonia (LBA) field campaign. The TRMM–LBA field campaign observations suggest that systematic variations in Amazonian convective vertical structure, lightning, and rainfall are all linked to bimodal variations in the low-level zonal wind (e.g., easterly and westerly regimes). The more spatially and temporally comprehensive TRMM dataset used in this study extends the TRMM–LBA observations by examining regime variability in Amazonian and South American convective structure over a continental-scale domain.

On a continental scale, patterns of east and west regime 850–700-mb winds combined with LIS lightning flash densities suggest the presence of synoptic-scale controls [e.g., intrusion of extratropical frontal systems and interaction with the South Atlantic Convergence Zone (SACZ)] on regional-scale variability in convective vertical structure. TRMM PR, TMI, and ground-based lightning data suggest that regional variability in wet-season convective structure is most evident over the southern Amazon, Mato Grosso, Altiplano, southern Brazil, and eastern coastal regions of central and southern South America. Convective vertical structure, convective rainfall rates, and lightning activity are all more pronounced during easterly (westerly) regimes over the southern Amazon and Mato Grosso (Altiplano, and southern Brazil). Importantly, when considered with case study results from TRMM–LBA, the systematic differences in convective structure that occur as a function of regime suggest that associated regime differences may exist in the vertical distribution of diabatic heating. Hence the discrimination of convective vertical structure “regimes” over parts of the Amazon and vicinity based on a resolved variable such as the 850–700-mb zonal wind direction, while far from being perfect, may have important applications to the problems of cumulus parameterization, rainfall estimation, and retrievals of latent heating over the Amazon.

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Corey G. Amiot, Lawrence D. Carey, William P. Roeder, Todd M. McNamara, and Richard J. Blakeslee

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Wind warnings are the second-most-frequent advisory issued by the U.S. Air Force’s 45th Weather Squadron (45WS) at Cape Canaveral, Florida. Given the challenges associated with nowcasting convection in Florida during the warm season, improvements in 45WS warnings for convective wind events are desired. This study aims to explore the physical bases of dual-polarization radar signatures within wet downbursts around Cape Canaveral and identify signatures that may assist the 45WS during real-time convective wind nowcasting. Data from the 45WS’s C-band dual-polarization radar were subjectively analyzed within an environmental context, with quantitative wind measurements recorded by weather tower sensors for 32 threshold-level downbursts with near-surface winds ≥ 35 kt (1 kt ≈ 0.51 m s−1) and 32 null downbursts. Five radar signatures were identified in threshold-level downburst-producing storms: peak height of 1-dB differential reflectivity Z DR column, peak height of precipitation ice signature, peak reflectivity, height below 0°C level where Z DR increases to 3 dB within a descending reflectivity core (DRC), and vertical Z DR gradient within DRC. Examining these signatures directly in updraft–downdraft cycles that produced threshold-level winds yielded mean lead times of 20.0–28.2 min for cumulus and mature stage signatures and 12.8–14.9 min for dissipating stage signatures, with higher signature test values generally yielding higher skill scores. A conceptual test of utilizing signatures within earlier cells in multicell storms to indirectly predict the potential for intense downbursts in later cells was performed, which offered increased lead times and skill scores for an Eulerian forecast region downstream from the storm initiation location.

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Christopher B. Darden, David J. Nadler, Brian C. Carcione, Richard J. Blakeslee, Geoffrey T. Stano, and Dennis E. Buechler
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