Positive polarity lightning strokes can be useful indicators of thunderstorm behavior. A combination of National Lightning Detection Network and Next Generation Radar retrievals is used to analyze the anomalous positive cloud‐to‐ground (CG) lightning behavior of a rare, late summer severe weather event that occurred on 26–27 August 2007 in the Northern Great Plains region of the United States and southern Canada. Seven discrete supercells (SC1–SC7) exhibiting frequent and intense lightning were responsible for numerous reports of severe weather (e.g., severe hail and 16 tornadoes) including catastrophic damage to the town of Northwood, North Dakota, caused by SC2. Biomass burning smoke from wildfires in Idaho and Montana was present prior to convective initiation. A positive CG lightning stroke rate of nearly 30 strokes per minute was observed 10 min before the EF4 tornado struck Northwood. SC2 was also responsible for all the reports of tornadoes exceeding an EF2 rating. The strongest peak currents (>200 kA) were observed in SC1–SC4 with SC2 having a maximum value of 280 kA. SC2 dominated the statistics of the line of supercells accounting for 27% of all CG lightning strokes. Positive CG lightning accounted for over 40% of all CG lightning strokes in SC4–SC7 on average, and the maximum exceeded 90% in SC6 and SC7. Increasing positive CG lightning dominance was correlated with an increasing northward gradient of smoke aerosol loading in addition to severe weather being reported before the maximum in positive CG lighting stroke rate (SC5 and SC6). This suggests that a complex combination of synoptic forcing and aerosol perturbation likely led to the observed anomalous positive CG lightning behavior in the supercells.
Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres – Wiley
Published: Jan 16, 2018
Keywords: ; ; ;
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