FORTE radio-frequency observations of lightning strokes detected by the National Lightning Detection Network

Abram R. Jacobson, Kenneth L. Cummins, Michael Carter, Phillip Klingner, Diane Roussel-Dupré, Stephen O. Knox

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


This work compares simultaneous observations of lightning from two complementary systems. FORTE is a low-Earth-orbit satellite carrying radiowave and optical instruments for the study of lightning. The radio receivers aboard FORTE observe very high frequency (VHF) emissions from the air-breakdown process preceding (and sometimes accompanying) a lightning current. The National Lightning Detection Network (NLDN) is a ground-based array of sensors in the contiguous United States observing the low-frequency (LF) and very low frequency (VLF) radiation from vertical currents. Prior to the launch of FORTE in 1997, essentially no work had been done on the statistical correlations between (1) ground-based LF/VLF and (2) spaced-based VHF remote sensing of lightning. During a 6-month campaign in April-September 1998, FORTE took most of its triggered VHF data over and near the contiguous United States, and NLDN data were specially postprocessed in a loosened-criterion mode providing enhanced detection range beyond the coastline and borders of the array itself. The time history of reported events from the two systems was compared, and event pairs (each pair containing one event from FORTE, the other from NLDN) which were candidate correlations (closer than 200 ms from each other) were scrutinized to determine whether the members of a pair actually came from the same discharge process. We have found that there is a statistically significant correlation, for a subset of FORTE events. This correlation is most likely to occur for intracloud and less likely to occur for cloud-to-ground discharges. The correlated VHF and NLDN events tend to occur within ±30 μs of each other, after correction for the propagation of the VHF signal to FORTE from the NLDN-geolocated stroke location. Most correlations outside of ±30 μs turn out to be merely a statistical accident. The NLDN-furnished geolocation allows the correlated FORTE-detected VHF pulses to be better interpreted. In particular, we can deduce, from the lag of the VHF ground-reflection echo, the height of the VHF emission region in the storm.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2000JD900103
Pages (from-to)15653-15662
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research Atmospheres
Issue numberD12
StatePublished - Jun 27 2000
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Materials Chemistry
  • Polymers and Plastics
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry


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