Characteristics of cloud-to-ground lightning in warm-season thunderstorms in the Central Great Plains

Stacy A. Fleenor, Christopher J. Biagi, Kenneth L. Cummins, E. Philip Krider, Xuan Min Shao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

122 Scopus citations


In July 2005, a field campaign was conducted in the Central Great Plains to obtain 60-field/s video imagery of lightning in correlation with reports from the U.S. National Lightning Detection Network (NLDN) and broadband electric field waveforms from the Los Alamos Sferic Array (LASA). A total of 342 GPS time-stamped cloud-to-ground (CG) flashes were recorded in 17 different sessions, and 311 (91%) of these were correlated with reports from the NLDN. Only 6 of the 17 recording sessions were dominated by flashes that lowered negative charge to ground, and 11 were dominated by positive CG flashes. A total of 103 flashes recorded on video were correlated with at least one NLDN report of negative CG strokes, 204 video flashes were correlated with one or two positive stroke reports, and 4 had bipolar reports. In this paper, we will give distributions of the estimated peak current, Ip, as reported by the NLDN, of negative and positive first strokes that were recorded on video, the multiplicity of strokes that were recorded on video, and the number of ground contacts per flash that were resolved on video. 41 (40%) of the negative flashes produced just a single-stroke on video, and 62 (60%) showed two or more strokes. The observed multiplicity of negative flashes averaged 2.83, which becomes about 3.14 after correcting for the finite time-resolution of the video camera. 195 (96%) of the positive flashes produced just a single-stroke on video, and 9 (4%) showed two strokes; therefore, the observed multiplicity of positive flashes averaged 1.04. Five out of 9 (56%) of the positive subsequent strokes re-illuminated a previous channel, and 4 out of 9 (44%) created a new ground contact. Simultaneous video, LASA, and NLDN measurements also allowed us to examine the classification of NLDN reports during 3 single-cell storms (one negative and two positive). Based on the LASA waveforms, a total of 204 out of 376 (54%) NLDN reports of CG strokes were determined to be for cloud pulses. The misclassified negative reports had |Ip| values ranging from 3.8 kA to 29.7 kA, but only 58 (24%) of these had |Ip| > 10 kA, and only one misclassified positive report had Ip > 20 kA. Radar analyses showed that most of the negative and positive CG strokes that were recorded on video were produced within or near the convective cores of storms. The radar imagery also showed that single-cell storms tended to produce one polarity of CG flashes at a time, and that such storms could switch rapidly from negative to positive CG flashes when the reflectivity was near maximum. Multiple-cell storms produced both negative and positive flashes over a broad region, but each polarity tended to cluster near regions of high-reflectivity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)333-352
Number of pages20
JournalAtmospheric Research
Issue number2-4
StatePublished - Feb 2009


  • Central Great Plains
  • Lightning
  • Negative
  • Positive
  • Thunderstorms

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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