The temporal evolution of three-dimensional lightning parameters and their suitability for thunderstorm tracking and nowcasting
Abstract. Total lightning (TL) data have been found to provide valuable information about the internal dynamics of a thunderstorm allowing conclusions about its further development as well as indicating potential of thunderstorm-related severe weather at the ground. This paper investigates electrical discharge correlations of strokes and flashes with respect to the temporal evolution of thunderstorms in case studies as well as by statistical means. The recently developed algorithm li-TRAM (tracking and monitoring of lightning cells, Meyer et al., 2013) has been employed to track and monitor thunderstorms based on three-dimensionally resolved TL data provided as stroke events by the European lightning location network LINET. From statistical investigation of 863 suited thunderstorm life cycles, the cell area turned out to correlate well with (a) the total discharge rate, (b) the in-cloud (IC) discharge rate, and (c) the mean IC discharge height per lightning cell as identified by li-TRAM. All three parameter correlations consistently show an abrupt change in discharge characteristics around a cell area of 170 km2. Statistical investigations supported by the comparison of three case studies – selected to represent a single storm, a multi-cell and a supercell – strongly suggest that the correlation functions include the temporal evolution as well as the storm type. With the help of volumetric radar data, it can also be suggested that the well-defined break observed at 170 km2 marks the region where the transition occurs from short-lived and rather simple structured single storm cells to better organized, more persistent, and more complex structured thunderstorm forms, e.g. multi-cells and supercells. All three storm types experience similar discharge characteristics during their growing and dissipating phases. However, while the poorly organized and short-lived cells preferentially remain small during a short mature phase, mainly the more persistent thunderstorm types develop to sizes above 170 km2 during a pronounced mature stage. At that stage they exhibit on average higher discharge rates at higher altitudes as compared with matured single cells. With the maximum stroke distance set to 10 km and a flash duration set to 1 s, the parameterization functions found for the stroke rate as a function of the cell area have been transformed to a flash rate. The presented study suggests that, with respect to the storm type, stroke and flash correlations can be parameterized. There is also strong evidence that parameterization functions include the time parameter, so that altogether TL stroke information has good potential to pre-estimate the further evolution (nowcast) of a currently observed storm in an object-oriented thunderstorm nowcasting approach.