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  • View in gallery

    Sensor locations of the lightning location system (GDLLS) of the Guangdong Electric Power Company.

  • View in gallery

    Center positions of the 33 tropical cyclones examined in this study for the periods of within 400 km of at least one locating sensor.

  • View in gallery

    Radial distribution of CG flash density in five TC intensity levels, computed by averaging periods of storms with the same intensity.

  • View in gallery

    The average flash rates of each storm listed in Table 1 during the period of prelandfall and postlandfall.

  • View in gallery

    Radial distribution of flash density during the period of pre- and postlandfall, computed by averaging periods of storms with the same intensity level: (a) tropical depression, (b) tropical storm, (c) severe tropical storm, (d) typhoon, and (e) severe typhoon.

  • View in gallery

    Temporal evolution of lightning within 60 km of the center of Severe Tropical Storm York (1999) (bars) superimposed on hourly interpolations of the maximum sustained wind speed (line with circles). Eyewall lightning outbreaks are indicated by arrows with serial numbers.

  • View in gallery

    Eyewall lightning outbreaks of Typhoon Nari (2001). (a) Temporal evolution of eyewall lightning, superimposed on hourly maximum sustained wind speed. (b) The 6-hourly best-track positions for the life cycle. The black dotted line denotes tropical depression status, the green dash–dot line denotes a tropical storm, the blue dashed line denotes a severe tropical storm, and the red solid line denotes a typhoon. Open circles mark the 0000 UTC positions of each day. The numbers next to the open circles indicate the dates in September 2001. Arrows with serial numbers in both figures indicate the 6 times of eyewall outbreaks. The period of study is between 0000 UTC 18 Sep and 0000 UTC 21 Sep.

  • View in gallery

    As in Fig. 7 but for Severe Tropical Storms Higos (2008). The numbers next to the open circles indicate the dates from 29 Sep 2008. The period of study is between 0200 UTC 3 Oct and 0500 UTC 6 Oct 2008.

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Lightning Distribution and Eyewall Outbreaks in Tropical Cyclones during Landfall

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  • 1 Laboratory of Lightning Physics and Protection Engineering, Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences, and Graduate University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China
  • 2 Laboratory of Lightning Physics and Protection Engineering, Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences, and State Key Laboratory of Severe Weather, Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences, Beijing, China
  • 3 Laboratory of Lightning Physics and Protection Engineering, Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences, Beijing, China
  • 4 Laboratory of Lightning Physics and Protection Engineering, Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences, and State Key Laboratory of Severe Weather, Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences, Beijing, China
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Abstract

Cloud-to-ground lightning data and storm intensity data (winds and central pressure) for 33 northwest Pacific tropical cyclones were used to analyze lightning distributions during the period of landfall in China. Lightning activities varied enormously from storm to storm with an average flash rate over 500 km of radius from 3 to 3201 flashes per hour, and no obvious relationship between average intensity and average flash rate occurred. The maximum flash density shifted from the eyewall region (0–60 km) to outer rainbands (180–500 km) as the intensity level increased. The average ratio of flash density in the eyewall to outer rainband was highest (1:0.5) for storms with the level of a tropical storm (17.2–24.4 m s−1) and lowest (1:8.6) for severe typhoons (41.5–50.9 m s−1). After storm landfall, flash density in the rainband decreased more rapidly in severe typhoons than in severe tropical storms (24.5–32.6 m s−1) and typhoons, but increased in tropical depressions (10.8–17.1 m s−1) and tropical storms. With the strength of intensity level, lightning in the outer rainband gradually weakened after the storm landfall.

Lightning outbreaks were identified in a consistent manner for all tropical cyclones to inspect the relationship of eyewall flashes to the changes of structure and intensity. Eyewall flash outbreaks were found during the period of intensity change (15% of outbreaks in intensification and 43% in weaken), and the period of maximum intensity (15% of outbreaks) of storms. A new result of this analysis found that 10% of the outbreaks occurred prior to and during periods of storm turning, which is potentially important for the trajectory change forecasting of tropical cyclones.

Corresponding author address: Wenjuan Zhang, Laboratory of Lightning Physics and Protection Engineering, Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences, Beijing 100081, China. E-mail: zhangwj@cams.cma.gov.cn

Abstract

Cloud-to-ground lightning data and storm intensity data (winds and central pressure) for 33 northwest Pacific tropical cyclones were used to analyze lightning distributions during the period of landfall in China. Lightning activities varied enormously from storm to storm with an average flash rate over 500 km of radius from 3 to 3201 flashes per hour, and no obvious relationship between average intensity and average flash rate occurred. The maximum flash density shifted from the eyewall region (0–60 km) to outer rainbands (180–500 km) as the intensity level increased. The average ratio of flash density in the eyewall to outer rainband was highest (1:0.5) for storms with the level of a tropical storm (17.2–24.4 m s−1) and lowest (1:8.6) for severe typhoons (41.5–50.9 m s−1). After storm landfall, flash density in the rainband decreased more rapidly in severe typhoons than in severe tropical storms (24.5–32.6 m s−1) and typhoons, but increased in tropical depressions (10.8–17.1 m s−1) and tropical storms. With the strength of intensity level, lightning in the outer rainband gradually weakened after the storm landfall.

Lightning outbreaks were identified in a consistent manner for all tropical cyclones to inspect the relationship of eyewall flashes to the changes of structure and intensity. Eyewall flash outbreaks were found during the period of intensity change (15% of outbreaks in intensification and 43% in weaken), and the period of maximum intensity (15% of outbreaks) of storms. A new result of this analysis found that 10% of the outbreaks occurred prior to and during periods of storm turning, which is potentially important for the trajectory change forecasting of tropical cyclones.

Corresponding author address: Wenjuan Zhang, Laboratory of Lightning Physics and Protection Engineering, Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences, Beijing 100081, China. E-mail: zhangwj@cams.cma.gov.cn
Keywords: Lightning

1. Introduction

Our knowledge about lightning activities in tropical cyclones (TCs) has gone through several stages. In the early times, there was a lack of research on storm electrification in tropical cyclones. Dun (1951) suggested that thunderstorms occurred frequently on the outer region but not the center of hurricanes. Jorgensen et al. (1985) indicated the strongest hurricane updraft cores were weak in comparison with that in midlatitude thunderstorms. Willoughby et al. (1985) found seeding for supercooled water was ineffective in hurricanes because of little supercooled water above the melting level. Black and Hallett (1986), on the basis of aircraft observations, also found a limited amount of supercooled water above the melting level in hurricanes. The above work suggests that interactions between supercooled water, large ice aggregates, and small ice particles for noninductive collision charge separation (e.g., Takahashi 1978; Saunders and Peck 1998) are not abundant in TCs, and the necessary microphysical conditions may not be sufficient to produce high could-to-ground lightning rates in tropical cyclones. Black et al. (1986) took some of the first steps to increasing our knowledge about lighting activities in tropical storms (Samsury and Orville 1994). On the basis of study on Hurricane Diana (1984), they found lightning to be frequent in tropical cyclones. Venne et al. (1989) and Lyons et al. (1989) also found lightning stroke frequently in hurricanes and mainly located in the eyewall and outer rainbands.

With the development of lightning detecting technologies in the last two decades, observations have determined that lighting in tropical cyclones may be a more common event than originally thought and studies began to investigate frequency and distribution of lightning in tropical cyclones. Land-based lightning detection networks that operate primarily in very low-frequency to low-frequency (VLF/LF) bands allow lightning monitoring within a few hundred kilometers of the coast. Samsury and Orville (1994), using the National Lightning Detection Network (NLDN; Cummins et al. 1998; Cummins and Murphy 2009) data, described the distribution of lightning in Hurricanes Hugo and Jerry (1989) as they made landfall, and found the majority of flashes located in the right-front and right-rear quadrants. Molinari et al. (1994, 1999), also with the NLDN data, found a common radial distribution of lightning in nine North Atlantic basin hurricanes: a weak maximum in the eyewall region, a minimum in the inner rainbands (80–100-km radius), and a strong maximum in the outer rainbands (210–290-km radius). Lyons and Keen (1994) examined lightning in four tropical storms in the Gulf of Mexico using Lightning Position and Tracking System (LPATS) data, and found lightning was common within the outer rainbands while absent within the interior of mature TCs. More recently, Fierro et al. (2011) provided a first insight into the three-dimensional electrical activity with the Los Alamos Sferics Array (LASA; Shao et al. 2006) and investigated the inner-core lightning with changes of storm intensity in Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (2005). The above land-based networks have been the most convenient platform to observe lightning in TCs with high detection efficiency (DE) and location accuracy (LA) in the domain, but their coverage are limited to continent and adjacent ocean for the DE and LA decreasing sharply with the distance from the shore.

The Long-Range Lightning Detection Network (LLDN), operated by the Vaisala Thunderstorm Group, detects VLF electromagnetic waves reflected from the ionosphere to determine lightning strike locations (Pessi et al. 2009). As the detection range of LLDN is an order of magnitude greater than that of the NLDN, data from the network were used for a more complete documentation of lightning for the evolution of hurricanes over the open ocean (Squires and Businger 2008; Leary and Ritchie 2009; Demetriades et al. 2010). Moreover, the World Wide Lightning Location Network (WWLLN; Rodger et al. 2005, 2006) has also been used to study lightning in tropical storms. Price et al. (2009) and Pan et al. (2010) examined lightning activities in TCs during the entire lifetime over the globe and the northwest Pacific, respectively. Abarca et al. (2011) studied 24 Atlantic basin TCs with WWLLN data and suggested flash density in the inner core was potential for distinguishing intensifying versus nonintensifying TCs. Although the DE and LA of the WWLLN are still low, it can be used to overcome the spatiotemporal limitations that other ground-based networks have, thus allowing global, real-time monitoring of lightning in tropical storms. Despite efforts to investigate the various aspects of lightning in TCs noted above, the magnitude and radial distribution of the flash rate in TCs have varied significantly among the studies because of the different technology used in the ground-based network.

Satellites provide a common means for monitoring storms over the oceans and were used to investigate total lightning [cloud-to-ground (CG) plus intracloud (IC)] and passive microwave ice scattering magnitudes in tropical cyclones. Observations of total lightning from the Optical Transient Detector (OTD) were compared with TC intensity by Cecil and Zipser (1999). With Lightning Imaging Sensor (LIS) data from the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite, Cecil et al. (2002a, 2002b) studied 261 overpasses of 45 hurricanes and found radial distribution of lightning was similar to Molinari et al. (1994, 1999). They proposed that supercooled cloud water occurred preferentially in outer rainbands compared to other tropical oceanic precipitation. Yokoyama and Takayabu (2008), also using LIS data from TRMM, however, found a larger flash rate and more vigorous convective activity in the inner core (0–60 km) compared to the rainband (60–500 km).

The predictive values of CG lightning to structure and intensity changes of TCs have been discussed recently. Studies have shown that lightning outbreaks in the eyewall often occur prior to or during periods of storm intensification, such as the case studies of Hurricanes Diana (1984) and Florence (1988) by Lyons and Keen (1994), Hurricane Andrew (1992) by Molinari et al. (1994), and Hurricanes Rita and Katrina (2005) by Shao et al. (2005), Squires and Businger (2008), and Thomas et al. (2010). Lightning outbreaks were usually recognized as sharp increases of flash density in time series. Nagele (2010) proposed a quantitative definition of outbreak considering both the increase in flashes from one time period to the next and the threshold on absolute flash count. Squires and Businger (2008) analyzed the morphology of eyewall lightning in two category-5 hurricanes and found each hurricane produced eyewall outbreaks during the period of rapid intensification (RI), replacement cycles (RC), and the period encompassed the maximum intensity (MI). Molinari et al. (1999) proposed the indications of eyewall lightning outbreaks in the following: an outbreak in a weakening, steady, or slowly deepening hurricane might indicate a rapidly intensification; an outbreak in a hurricane deepening for some time may indicate the imminent end or reversal of intensification; the lack of inner-core flashes may indicate little change in the hurricane. Price et al. (2009) observed a statistical increase of lightning activity approximately one day before the peak winds. Fierro et al. (2011) revealed an increase in discharge heights during RI and suggested that the IC narrow bipolar events (NBEs) were useful in tracking the evolution of strong convection during intensification. Furthermore, increasing CG flash rates could also accompany or precede a weakening of weak TCs and/or an imminent change in its track (Willoughby 1990; Fierro et al. 2007). It was suggested by Black and Hallett (1999) that lightning outbreaks within the eyewall should be rare when compared to continent thunderstorms. A high electric field was collocated with strong updraft and high supercooled water concentrations. The rarity of supercooled water and inactive interaction of graupel and ice crystals would prevent the charging process within the eyewall. By this reason, lightning would occur in the eyewall only when convection and strong updrafts are rapidly growing. To take full advantage of the predictive value of lightning in tropical cyclones discussed above, modelers have capitalized on the assimilating methods of lightning data into numerical models, to help improve forecasts of small-scale convective structure of the inner core and, hence, the potential imminent intensity changes of the storms (Marks and Shay 1998; Fierro et al. 2007; Fierro and Reisner 2011).

Overall, the above studies showed variation of spatial and temporal characteristics of lightning activity in tropical cyclones, and indicated the potential of using data from lightning detection network to predict changes of storm intensity and evolution of structure. This study looks more closely at the lightning characteristics of northwest Pacific tropical cyclones during their landfall in China. China is one of the most severely typhoon-affected countries in the world with about seven to eight typhoons making landfall each year. The landfalling typhoons bring not only severe flooding to coastal areas, but also strong winds and storm surge disasters, which cause large fatalities and economic losses. In addition, China has been constructing the national lightning detection network since the 1990s and has now obtained ground-based lightning data for more than one decade. In this work, we use lightning data from a regional lightning detection network in south China, along with storm track and intensity data from the China Meteorological Administration (CMA), to study the characteristics of lightning activity during the periods of landfall (prelandfall, landfall, and postlandfall). We examine the following three fundamental questions: 1) What are the frequency and distribution of lightning in TCs during landfall? 2) What are the differences for lightning activity in TCs before and after landfall? 3) Does eyewall lightning outbreak during the landfall? If so, what are the predictive values for eyewall lightning to TC changes?

2. Data and methods

a. CG lightning data

Lightning activities of 33 tropical cyclones that made landfall in Guangdong province, south China, from 1999 to 2010, were analyzed in this study. The lightning data were from a lightning location system [Guangdong Lightning Location System (GDLLS); Chen et al. 2004], which was put into operation in 1997 in the grid of Guangdong Electric Power Company. The network consists of 16 sensors (Fig. 1) and provides real-time CG lightning locations for the whole area of Guangdong province and its vicinity covered by the combined technique of magnetic direction finding (DF) and time of arrival (TOA). It provides information of date, time, latitude, longitude, peak current, polarity, and number of strokes per flash. Chen et al. (2002) evaluated the performance of GDLLS with the data of recorded lightning faults on transmission lines in 1997–99, and found the DE is as high as 86% and the median LA is about 1.3 km. Comparisons with field studies on artificially triggered lightning in 2007 and 2008, Chen et al. (2010) showed that the LA was 760 m and the DE for flash was 93% at the field site within the network.

Fig. 1.
Fig. 1.

Sensor locations of the lightning location system (GDLLS) of the Guangdong Electric Power Company.

Citation: Monthly Weather Review 140, 11; 10.1175/MWR-D-11-00347.1

For the purpose of minimizing variation of location error and detection efficiency with distance, range was limited to 400 km away from TC center to at least one sensor in this study. This method was also used by Molinari et al. (1999) in interpreting the time variation of flashes in nine Atlantic basin hurricanes. Although the network provides information on individual strokes that made up a flash, only flashes as a whole were examined in this study. Additionally, small positive discharges with peak currents less than 10 kA were regarded as cloud discharges (Cummins et al. 1998, 2006) and were not included in the dataset. Biagi et al. (2007) found a more updated threshold of 15 kA for cloud discharges; however, there is no unique threshold for classifying a small positive report as a CG stroke and the exact value is still in debate.

b. Tropical cyclone data

The information on TC track and intensity were obtained from the Yearbook of Tropical Cyclone [China Meteorological Administration (CMA) 1999–2010] published by the CMA for 1999–2010. The yearbook gives the 6-hourly intervals data of center latitude, longitude, maximum sustained surface wind speed, and minimum central pressures. Hourly center position and intensity were obtained by spline interpolation. Landfall is defined as the time the center of the eye first crosses the coast. The period of landfall begins when the storm center is 400 km away from at least one sensor in the network, and ends when the center is without 400 km off the network after the landfall. Table 1 lists the 33 TCs examined in this study and the times their centers were within 400 km of at least one sensor of the detection network. Figure 2 shows tracks of the TCs during the periods when lightning data were examined.

Table 1.

List of tropical cyclones examined in this study with their flash rates and the times their centers were within 400 km of the lightning location system (GDLLS) of the Guangdong Electric Power Company.

Table 1.
Fig. 2.
Fig. 2.

Center positions of the 33 tropical cyclones examined in this study for the periods of within 400 km of at least one locating sensor.

Citation: Monthly Weather Review 140, 11; 10.1175/MWR-D-11-00347.1

According to the Yearbook of Tropical Cyclone, TC intensities are classified into six levels in China depending on the mean maximum wind speed: tropical depression (TD; 10.8–17.1 m s−1), tropical storm (TS; 17.2–24.4 m s−1), severe tropical storm (STS; 24.5–32.6 m s−1), typhoon (TY; 32.7–41.4 m s−1), severe typhoon (STY; 41.5–50.9 m s−1), and super typhoon (Super TY; larger than 51.0 m s−1). Because of changes in intensity throughout the storm’s life cycle, TC intensity levels in this study are determined not by peak intensity (i.e., mean maximum wind speed) in the lifetime, but by the central wind speed when lightning occurs. None of super typhoons was observed when lightning occurred during the period of study.

Each storm was divided into three regions based on electrical characteristics: eyewall, within 60 km of the storm center; inner rainband, 60–180 km from the center; and outer rainband, 180–500 km from the center. The motivation for dividing the storm was based largely on the work of Molinari et al. (1994, 1999) who found three broad categories of convection regimes on the basis of lightning activity. This study used a similar method, except the distance from the center for each region was slightly different. When analyzing radial distributions of flash density for TCs, lightning flashes were divided into 20-km annular rings beginning from the storm center to outward to 500 km, and the radial distributions of flash density were counted.

c. Eyewall lightning outbreak definition

By inspecting lightning activities in the eyewall region, defined as within 60 km of the storm center, an eyewall lightning outbreak was determined if it satisfied the following two conditions: 1) a 50% increase in flash rate (flashes per hour) from one hour to the next, and 2) the absolute increased count of flash in one hour was larger than the mean flash rate of the storm during the time of study. This method was also used by Nagele (2010) to analyze lightning activity in 16 hurricanes making landfall along the Gulf of Mexico. By using the above method, eyewall flash outbreaks in all the storms were identified to examine their relationships with changes of storm intensity and track.

3. Results

a. Overall lightning distribution in tropical cyclones

Table 1 presents a summary of CG flash rate within 500 km of the center for the 33 storms studied in this work. The table also includes information on the beginning and end time, the landfall time, and the storm peak intensity. The average flash rate in Table 1 means the number of flashes occurred in the period of interest divided by the study hours. The flash rate on land means the number of flash occurred during postlandfall divided by hours the storm was on land. Table 1 shows that the average flash rate varied largely from storm to storm. Some of the storms had intense lightning activities with flash rates of more than 2000 h−1 [e.g., Typhoon Nuri (2008) and Typhoon Molave (2009)], while some storms had low flash rate of near zero [e.g., Typhoon Leo (1999) and Tropical Storm Mekkhala (2002)].

No obvious relationship between the average flash rate and the storm peak intensity (maximum wind speed and minimum central pressure in the lifetime) was found. Severe Typhoon Chanchu (2006) had a large maximum wind speed of 46 m s−1 but the average flash rate was only 21 h−1, whereas Typhoon Nuri (2008) had a maximum wind speed of 38 m s−1, but the flash rate was up to 3201 h−1, much higher than some severe typhoons (Table 1). Samsury and Orville (1994) found CG flash rate for Hurricanes Jerry (1989) was an order of magnitude higher than for Hugo, a more intense hurricane. Molinari et al. (1994, 1999), with the study of nine Atlantic basin hurricanes, also found the overall flash rate had no clear relationship with the averaged storm intensity. Horizontal wind speeds that characterized the storm intensity were not a good predictor of lightning activity in TCs, and the active electrical activity in storms was more related to the presence of strong updraft (Black and Hallett 1999).

b. Lightning distribution in tropical cyclones at different intensity levels

Figure 3 shows the radial distributions of flash density for TCs of different intensity levels. Tropical storms and severe typhoons had distributions of single peak feature with maximum flash densities in the eyewall and outer rainband. Tropical depressions and severe tropical storms had more intense lightning activities in the outer rainband and showed a bimodal distribution of flash density in the radius. One peak was in the eyewall region similar to tropical storm and the other was located in the outer rainband. The radial distributions of lightning in typhoons also showed a bimodal feature, but the two maximum were both located in the outer rainband. Flash densities in the eyewall of severe typhoons and typhoons were much lower than that in severe tropical storms and tropical storms. This result was consistent with the study of Atlantic basin hurricanes by Molinari et al. (1999), who found the ground flash density maximum in the core was larger in marginal (32–35 m s−1 mean maximum sustained surface wind speed) than in strong (56 m s−1) hurricanes. Although flash densities in the eyewall and outer rainband enormously varied with storm intensity level, low flash density in the inner rainband occurred in all TC levels (Fig. 3). Table 2 presents the ratios of flash densities between the eyewall and outer rainband for five TC levels. Lightning had the same flash density in the eyewall and outer rainband in tropical depressions. Tropical storms had the largest ratio (1:0.5) of flash density among all intensity levels and the majority of lightning in storms at this level occurred in the core region. Although the maximum of flash density was also located within the eyewall, lightning in the outer rainband of severe tropical storms became intense and the ratio of flash densities between the eyewall and outer rainband decreased to 1:0.6. Storms at the typhoon level showed a ratio of flash densities between the eyewall and outer rainband of 1:2.9. When the storm strengthened to severe typhoon intensity, the vast majority of lightning occurred in the outer region and the ratio of flash densities between the eyewall and outer rainband reached the lowest (1:8.6).

Fig. 3.
Fig. 3.

Radial distribution of CG flash density in five TC intensity levels, computed by averaging periods of storms with the same intensity.

Citation: Monthly Weather Review 140, 11; 10.1175/MWR-D-11-00347.1

Table 2.

The ratio of flash density between the eyewall and outer rainband and percentage of positive CG lightning for the eyewall and outer rainband of five TC intensity levels, computed by periods of storm with the same intensity as in Fig. 3. The eyewall region was within 60 km of the storm center and the outer rainband was 180–500 km from the center as described in section 2.

Table 2.

The ratios of positive to CG flashes in the eyewall and outer rainband were also shown in Table 2. The percent of positive lightning within the eyewall for all intensity levels were higher than that in the outer rainband. The highest percent of positive lightning was 30.4% in the eyewall regions of storms with typhoon intensity, and the lowest was 6.6% in the outer rainband with tropical depression intensity. The average percent of positive lightning in the eyewall and outer rainband for the entire sample were 23% and 8%, respectively. Different characteristics of positive and total lightning activity in the eyewall and outer rainband might be due to convective regimes in a tropical storm. Holle et al. (1994) showed that in a mesoscale convective system (MCS), the convective region tended to have almost (97%) exclusively negative flashes, whereas in the trailing stratiform region the percent of positive flashed was averagely 24%, up to 30%. From this aspect, the eyewall of tropical storm has similarities to the stratiform region and the outer rainband to the convective region of MCSs. Previous studies interpreting microphysics and electrification mechanisms in TCs found: (i) the eyewall has attributes similar to deep, weakly electrified, monsoonal convection and has a relatively low flash rate as a result of weak vertical velocities and lack of necessary graupel particles above the melting level (Black and Hallett 1999); (ii) the outer rainband, with attributes similar to continental thunderstorm, contains the majority number of flashes in the storm and has a low ratio of positive flash (Molinari et al. 1994, 1999; Orville and Coyne 1999; Cecil et al. 2002a,b).

c. Lightning distribution during the period of pre- and postlandfall

A tropical storm goes through many changes of convective structure during the period of landfall, thus lightning activity during this time would also seem to change. Figure 4 shows the average flash rates of each storm during the period of prelandfall and postlandfall. The flash rate of prelandfall/postlandfall was obtained by using the number of flash occurred before/after landfall divided by hours the storm over water/land. Lightning activities became more intense in 15 storms and weaker in 18 storms after the storm made landfall. Flash rates of postlandfall did not change significantly in some storms compared to prelandfall [e.g., Typhoon Maggie (1999) and Severe Typhoon Dujuan (2003)]. However, lightning activities changed enormously in some TCs [e.g., lightning frequency in Severe Tropical Storm York (1999) decreased by 76%, while in Typhoon Nuri (2008), it increased by 63% after landfall (Table 1)].

Fig. 4.
Fig. 4.

The average flash rates of each storm listed in Table 1 during the period of prelandfall and postlandfall.

Citation: Monthly Weather Review 140, 11; 10.1175/MWR-D-11-00347.1

Because of the changes in roughness between the ocean and land surface, there is an increase in frictional convergence on the onshore side of storms as they approach the coast (Powell 1987). Figure 5 presents the radial distribution of flash density during the period of pre- and postlandfall for five intensity categories. Lightning is mostly located in the eyewall and outer rainband in storms at TD and TS intensity when over water. After the storms make landfall, flash density decreased in the eyewall region but slightly increased in the inner and outer rainband. A severe tropical storm showed a larger lightning frequency both in the eyewall and outer rainband then a tropical storm during prelandfall, but lightning in the outer rainband decreased dramatically after the landfall. In storms at intensity of typhoon and severe typhoon, the outer rainband contained the vast majority of ground flashes before landfall. When the storms were on land, flash density decreased rapidly in the outer rainband but increased in the eyewall and inner rainband. Parrish et al. (1982) examined Hurricane Fredric (1979) and found that convection in the eyewall increased by more than 50% when it approached the coastline. The changes of convection would increase lightning activity in the eyewall during the period of postlandfall. Figure 5 shows that the ground flash density in the rainband decreased more rapidly in strong TCs (STY) than in marginal TCs (STS and TY), but increased in weak TCs (TD and TS) during the period of postlandfall. When storms strengthen to STS intensity after landfall, lightning in the outer rainband gradually weakened with the increase of intensity level. Our results indicate the difference of lightning activity within the eyewall and outer rainband for storms at five intensity levels during the period of pre- and postlandfall. It is possible that the distributions are not fit for the characteristic of every storm, but they give an overall picture of lightning activity in storms at different intensity levels before and after landfall.

Fig. 5.
Fig. 5.

Radial distribution of flash density during the period of pre- and postlandfall, computed by averaging periods of storms with the same intensity level: (a) tropical depression, (b) tropical storm, (c) severe tropical storm, (d) typhoon, and (e) severe typhoon.

Citation: Monthly Weather Review 140, 11; 10.1175/MWR-D-11-00347.1

d. Eyewall lightning outbreaks

By using the method described in section 2c, a total of 62 eyewall flash outbreaks were identified in the sample. Table 3 shows the analysis results of flash outbreaks that occurred in the eyewall region. Eyewall lightning bursts occurred mainly in the following four time periods.

  1. During the intensification period over water. Nine outbreaks occurred during the period of rapid deepening before the storm landfall and accounted for 15% of all outbreaks. The peak value of maximum sustained wind was preceded by the eyewall flash outbreaks at approximately 7.1 h. The storm made landfall at an average of 18.6 h after the eyewall outbreaks in the intensification period (Table 3).
  2. During the weakening stages of storm intensity. A total of 27 outbreaks occurred during the periods of weakened intensity: 7 in prelandfall and 20 in postlandfall, which accounted for 43% of the total number of outbreaks. The ratio of positive to total CG flashes of 17.1% was higher in weakening periods than in other periods (Table 3). Thomas et al. (2010), with the analysis of North Atlantic hurricanes, also indicated an increase in the relative number of positive CG lightning in the inner core prior to and during periods of storm weakening, and suggested a potential value of eyewall lightning for hurricane intensity change forecasting.
  3. During the periods of maximum intensity. Nine outbreaks occurred during the times that encompassed the MI and accounted for 15% of total bursts. The average ratio of positive to total CG flashes during the MI period was 10.3%. The time when storms reached MI was at an average of 7.8 h ahead of landfall (Table 3).Figure 6 shows an example of eyewall lightning outbreaks during the above three periods. The figure displays the time variation of eyewall lightning, superimposed on hourly interpolations of the maximum sustained wind speed for Severe Tropical Storm York (1999). York produced a total of five eyewall flash outbreaks during the period of study. The first two occurred during the rapid intensification which began at 0000 UTC 14 September and ended at 0200 UTC 15 September. The maximum sustained surface winds increased from 20 to 30 m s−1 over the 29-h period of intensification, and then kept the peak wind of 30 m s−1 for 26 h (i.e., the MI stage). During the time York reached MI, a third eyewall outbreak occurred, but it was much smaller than the first two in flash rates. York made its landfall in Guangdong at 1000 UTC 16 September at the wind speed of 27 m s−1. Then the winds dropped rapidly from 27 to 12 m s−1 in 20 h and the central pressure increased from 977 to 1000 hPa. Two eyewall outbreaks occurred during this weakening stage after the storm making landfall.
  4. During the periods of recurvature. Eyewall outbreaks were also observed during a steady period of storm with no changes of winds and pressure. The outbreaks were associated with turnings of the storm track. In total, there were 10 outbreaks in 6 storms [i.e., Typhoon Sam (1999), Typhoon Nari (2001), Severe Tropical Storm Pabuk (2007), Severe Typhoon Fengshen (2008), Tropical Storm Higos (2008), and Severe Tropical Storm Goni (2009)] that occurred during this period, and accounted for 16% of all outbreaks.
Table 3.

Number of eyewall flash outbreaks, percentage of positive CG, and average hour of the outbreak to landfall in different stages for all the storms listed in Table 1.

Table 3.
Fig. 6.
Fig. 6.

Temporal evolution of lightning within 60 km of the center of Severe Tropical Storm York (1999) (bars) superimposed on hourly interpolations of the maximum sustained wind speed (line with circles). Eyewall lightning outbreaks are indicated by arrows with serial numbers.

Citation: Monthly Weather Review 140, 11; 10.1175/MWR-D-11-00347.1

Figures 7a,b show the temporal evolution of eyewall outbreaks and the storm track of Typhoon Nari (2001), respectively. Nari experienced a total of six eyewall flash outbreaks during the period of study. The first two outbreaks (bursts 1 and 2) occurred during a steady period for the winds kept at 18 m s−1 and the pressure kept at ~998 hPa for 36 h (Fig. 7a). Actually these two outbreaks were associated with the storm recurvature that began at 0000 UTC 18 September and ended at 1200 UTC 19 September 2001 (Fig. 7b). In the period of study, Nari made its largest turning angle at 0000 UTC 19 September, with the moving direction changed from southwest to west. The second outbreak at 2200 UTC and a great increase of flash rate at 2300 UTC 18 September presented 2 h ahead of the sharp turning. From Figs. 7a,b it was shown that the eyewall lightning became intense at the beginning of recurvature and increased to a flash peak 1 h ahead of the biggest turning point. Nari intensified from TS to STS during the period of 1200 UTC 19 September–0000 UTC 20 September subsequently and the third and fourth outbreaks (bursts 3 and 4) occurred prior to and during this intensification. The storm intensity decreased rapidly from STS to TS and then to TD after Nari made landfall at 0200 UTC 20 September. The fifth and sixth eyewall outbreaks (bursts 5 and 6) were associated with this weakening stage. While Nari made an erratic looping track in the first few days from 6 to 15 September of its genesis, lightning data for this period were unavailable because of the detection range of the network. Figure 8 give another example of which eyewall flash breaks occurred during the period of recurvature. Severe Tropical Storms Higos (2008) experienced three eyewall outbreaks (bursts 1, 2, and 3) at 0800, 1600, and 1700 UTC 4 October, respectively (Fig. 8a). These outbreaks occurred during the storm recurvature on 4 October, and the moving direction of the storm changed from north to northeast during this time (Fig. 8b).

Fig. 7.
Fig. 7.

Eyewall lightning outbreaks of Typhoon Nari (2001). (a) Temporal evolution of eyewall lightning, superimposed on hourly maximum sustained wind speed. (b) The 6-hourly best-track positions for the life cycle. The black dotted line denotes tropical depression status, the green dash–dot line denotes a tropical storm, the blue dashed line denotes a severe tropical storm, and the red solid line denotes a typhoon. Open circles mark the 0000 UTC positions of each day. The numbers next to the open circles indicate the dates in September 2001. Arrows with serial numbers in both figures indicate the 6 times of eyewall outbreaks. The period of study is between 0000 UTC 18 Sep and 0000 UTC 21 Sep.

Citation: Monthly Weather Review 140, 11; 10.1175/MWR-D-11-00347.1

Fig. 8.
Fig. 8.

As in Fig. 7 but for Severe Tropical Storms Higos (2008). The numbers next to the open circles indicate the dates from 29 Sep 2008. The period of study is between 0200 UTC 3 Oct and 0500 UTC 6 Oct 2008.

Citation: Monthly Weather Review 140, 11; 10.1175/MWR-D-11-00347.1

4. Discussion

a. Variations of lightning pattern in TCs at different intensity levels

Radial distribution of flash density in TCs at different intensity levels shows that the maximum of lightning activity generally shifted from the eyewall region to outer rainband as the storm strengthened. Our result showed the ratios of flash density between the eyewall and outer rainband were the highest (1:0.5) in TS and the lowest (1:8.6) in STY. When the intensity level strengthened from TS to STY, radial flash density transferred from bimodal distribution with maxima at the eyewall and outer rainband to single peak distribution with maxima at only the outer rainband and contained a higher flash density. Molinari et al. (1999) investigated prehurricane stages of three Atlantic basin storms and found that none of them had the characteristic radial distribution seen at the hurricane stage. Demetriades and Holle (2006) also indicated that lightning activity in tropical depressions and tropical storms did not show a preferential spatial pattern, but these weaker systems generally produced more lightning than hurricanes. While as the weakest storm, the ratio of flash density in TD was 1:1, not the highest among the five intensity levels. Although weak storms were unlikely to have a fully developed eyewall structure, the core convection that occurred in these storms was more electrified. Once a strong storm developed, lightning in the eyewall region became episodic and did not occur for a long time (Molinari et al. 1999), thus, resulting in the reduction of lightning density in the eyewall region.

A number of studies compared lightning activity in the eyewall with outer rainband. Molinari et al. (1999), using lightning data from NLDN, found that the ratio of flash density between the eyewall and outer rainband in hurricane was ~1:2.0–6.0. In contrast to Molinari et al. (1999) who suggested that the outer bands dominated the lightning distribution, Cecil et al. (2002a,b) with a study of 45 TCs with data from Lightning Imaging Sensor (LIS), found that the ratio was closer to 1:1. Squires and Businger (2008) found the ratios were 1:0.2 and 1:1 for Hurricanes Rita and Katrina, respectively, with LLDN data. Our result showed the ratios of flash density between the eyewall and outer rainband were ~1:0.5–8.6. The differences among results of the above studies were partly due to the large interstorm variability in flash density and the use of different lighting data and their limited range of detection.

b. Implications of eyewall flashes to storm intensity and recurvature

Lightning activities that were positively relevant to convective strength could provide valuable information on changes of intensity and track (Squires and Businger 2008; Molinari et al. 1999). The development of convective bursts within the eyewall could accompany significant changes of storm intensity (Heymsfield et al. 2001). The eyewall lightning outbreaks over water always occurred during times of intensification (Molinari et al. 1994; Squires and Businger 2008), and hurricanes in a quasi-steady state always showed weak lightning activity (Molinari et al. 1999). Our results showed that in all the 62 eyewall outbreaks, 15% occurred prior to or during the period of intensification and 15% occurred during the MI (Table 3). Eyewall lightning outbreaks occurred during these circumstances were consistent with the past studies. A new result of our analysis indicated that a signification portion (43%) of outbreaks occurred during the weakening stages after the storm made landfall, with an increase in the relative number of positive CG lightning. Moreover, eyewall lightning outbreaks (16%) could also accompany with storm recurvatures.

Some previous studies have discussed the mechanisms of lighting bursts during the period of storm strengthening. The vigorous updrafts that were enhanced during the period of intensification accelerated rates of charge separation and charge concentration, thus promoting intense lightning activities within the eyewall (Lyons and Keen 1994; Black and Hallett 1999). These suggested that eyewall lightning outbreaks might be a useful forecast tool to predict imminent changes of storm intensity. Nevertheless, questions about why lightning in the eyewall bursts frequently during the weakening stages after landfall and what happens to the convective structure of storms that caused eyeall outbreaks during the period of recurvature are not well understood yet.

5. Conclusions

Cloud-to-ground lightning data from a regional lightning detection network in China have been used to analyze lightning activities in tropical cyclones at different intensity levels during the period of landfall, and to investigate the predictive value of eyewall flash outbreaks to changes of intensity and trajectory in storms. The main results of this study were summarized as follows:

  1. Analysis of 33 tropical cyclones showed that the average flash rate varied largely from storm to storm, with the highest value of 3201 flashes per hour and lowest of 3 flashes per hour during the period of landfall. The average flash rate did not present a positive relationship with the peak storm intensity (maximum sustained surface wind speed and minimum central pressures in the lifetime).
  2. Radial distribution of flash densities varied in storms at different intensity levels. The maximum of lightning density generally shifted from the eyewall to the outer rainband as the strength of storm intensity varied. The ratio of flash density between the eyewall and outer rainband was largest in TS and lowest in STY. The percent of positive lightning within the eyewall were higher than that in the outer rainband. Different characteristics of positive and total lightning activity in the eyewall and outer rainband might be due to convective regimes in tropical storms.
  3. Spatial distribution of lightning varied from the period of prelandfall to postlandfall. Ground flash density in the rainband decreased more rapidly in strong TCs (STY) than in marginal TCs (STS and TY), but increased in weak TCs (TD and TS) during the period of postlandfall. When storms strengthened to STS intensity after landfall, lightning in the outer rainband gradually weakened with the increase of intensity level.
  4. Eyewall lightning could be a potential predictor to changes of storm intensity and track. An eyewall outbreak in a weak and deepening storm could indicate a rapid intensification. The outbreak of eyewall lightning was averagely 7.1 h before the peak of storm intensity before landfall. An outbreak in a mature, steady storm could indicate it was about to reach the MI. An increase in the percent of positive lightning in the eyewall during an outbreak may suggest a coming period of storm weakening. An eyewall flash outbreak in a storm with steady state and little changes in wind speed and central pressure may indicate an imminent recurvature.

In the near future, we intend to combine our results of eyewall lightning outbreaks with data from land-based radar and the TRMM satellite to obtain the internal precipitation structure for storms that experienced eyewall outbreaks, and to investigate the relationship between eyewall lightning and convection morphology during the stages of storm weakening and recurvature.

Acknowledgments

We thank Prof. Ying Li of the State Key Laboratory of Severe Weather, Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences and Prof. Shanchang Tao of the University of Science and Technology of China for their constructive suggestions to this study. We also thank two anonymous reviewers for their useful comments on this manuscript. This work was supported by the Basic Scientific Research and Operation Fund of Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences (2010Z004), the R&D Special Fund for Public Welfare Industry (GYHY201006005), and the Natural Science Foundation of China (41005006).

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