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Lightning Observations during Tropical Cyclone Intensity Change

Title: Lightning Observations during Tropical Cyclone Intensity Change: A Composite Study of Spatial and Temporal Relationships.
Name(s): Austin, Marcus, author
Fuelberg, Henry, professor directing thesis
Hart, Robert, committee member
Ruscher, Paul, committee member
Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, degree granting department
Florida State University, degree granting institution
Type of Resource: text
Genre: Text
Issuance: monographic
Date Issued: 2011
Publisher: Florida State University
Place of Publication: Tallahassee, Florida
Physical Form: computer
online resource
Extent: 1 online resource
Language(s): English
Abstract/Description: Although tropical cyclone (TC) track forecasts have improved considerably in recent years, predicting their intensity continues to be a challenge for both meteorologists and numerical models. A storm's path is primarily influenced greatly by large-scale atmospheric circulations; however, its strength appears to be dominated both by large scale influences and small-scale mechanisms within the storm itself. Most previous research on TC intensity change has employed either numerical modeling or diagnostic approaches using traditional meteorological parameters. Only recently have studies begun to examine electrification as a means for assessing the potential for intensification. Several papers have considered lightning as a proxy for storm intensification, mostly using data from Vaisala's National Lightning Detection Network (NLDN) and Long-Range Lightning Detection Network (LLDN). However, they mostly have examined individual TCs. This study uses LLDN data to study 45 Atlantic Basin TCs between the years 2004 and 2008. Using the National Hurricane Center's (NHC) best track dataset, lightning data are collected for each TC out to a 500 km radius. Parameters including storm intensity, intensity change, environmental vertical wind shear, storm motion, and flash count are compiled at each NHC best track position. The data at each position then are categorized in several ways, including change in intensity. These methods allow us to examine relations between composites of storm intensity/intensification and convective distribution and frequency. Distributions of cloud-to-ground (CG) flash density with respect to storm motion and speed show that lightning generally is preferred in the TCs' right front and right rear quadrants. Hurricanes produce the greatest flash densities during relatively slow forward motion, while tropical depressions and tropical storms exhibit greater flash densities during faster forward motion. Storm-relative CG flash distributions during weakening, no pressure change, and slow intensification (-5 to 0 hPa 6 h-1) exhibit the same right front and rear quadrant preference as the TC intensity categories. Flash densities are greatest during periods of faster intensification, with a nearly symmetric presentation in the inner core region. When computing flash densities with respect to environmental deep layer wind shear, TCs exhibit a strong preference for lightning in the downshear left and right quadrants of the inner core (0-100 km) and outer rainbands (100-300 km), respectively. Tropical storms and hurricanes best show this relation, with TDs exhibiting a stronger preference for lightning in the downshear right quadrant. Relatively weak wind shear produces greater flash densities in all TC intensity categories. Conversely, storms experiencing strong shear exhibit smaller flash densities in all TC categories due to the disruption of deep convection. During periods of faster intensification, maximum flash densities are located in the inner core, with weakening, no change, and slow intensification periods containing greatest density in the outer rainbands. Average flash rates and flash densities are found to be greatest for weaker TCs (tropical depressions and tropical storms) with smaller flash rates and densities in hurricanes. Considering intensity change, periods of faster intensification exhibit significantly greater flash rates than periods of weakening, no pressure change, and slow intensification. Only weak relations are found between flash rates and intensity change, with the strongest relationship occurring when lightning lags (occurs after) the pressure change period. Lightning preceding (occurring before) the pressure change period exhibits the weakest relationships in all TC intensities. Correlations between CG lightning and sustained wind speed indicate that there is no preferred timing between maximum lightning activity and maximum sustained winds. Instead, maximum correlations occur during periods when greatest lightning activity both precedes and lags the maximum sustained wind. These results indicate that lightning is poorly correlated with intensity change and can be regarded as a poor choice for intensity forecasting.
Identifier: FSU_migr_etd-0261 (IID)
Submitted Note: A Thesis submitted to the Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science.
Degree Awarded: Degree Awarded: Spring Semester, 2011.
Date of Defense: Date of Defense: November 4, 2010.
Keywords: Lightning, Tropical Cyclones, Hurricane, Intensity Change, Eyewall, Rainbands
Bibliography Note: Includes bibliographical references.
Advisory committee: Henry Fuelberg, Professor Directing Thesis; Robert Hart, Committee Member; Paul Ruscher, Committee Member.
Subject(s): Oceanography
Atmospheric sciences
Persistent Link to This Record:
Host Institution: FSU

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Austin, M. (2011). Lightning Observations during Tropical Cyclone Intensity Change: A Composite Study of Spatial and Temporal Relationships. Retrieved from