Inferences on upward leader characteristics from measured currents

Amitabh Nag, Kenneth L. Cummins, Mathieu N. Plaisir, Jennifer G. Wilson, David E. Crawford, Robert G. Brown, R. Carl Noggle, Hamid K. Rassoul

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


We analyzed in detail currents associated with upward unconnected leaders (UULs) initiated from the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Industrial Area Tower (IAT). Current measurements of UULs in natural lightning are relatively rare and provide important insights into the development and propagation of upward leaders. Eight UULs were initiated from the KSC-IAT between August 1, 2018 and November 15, 2019. All UULs were positive as they occurred in response to downward negative leaders that attached to ground near the tower. The KSC Mesoscale Eastern Range Lightning Information System (MERLIN) located these nearby strokes at distances ranging from 185 to 783 m from the tower, with the median being 538 m. The peak current for these strokes ranged from 13 to 69.3 kA, with the median being 26.7 kA. From the perspective of charge transferred, these UULs can be considered to be a bipolar lightning phenomenon; they transferred negative charge to ground between the inception of their current and the current-polarity reversal, following which, they effectively transferred positive charge to ground. We labeled the former time-period as the UUL development phase and the latter as the collapse phase. The median duration and charge transferred for the development phase were 789 μs and − 6.4 mC, respectively, and for the collapse phase were 388 μs and 4.7 mC, respectively. Overall, the net charge transferred to ground by UULs was negative. During the development phase, UUL-currents consisted of faster (total durations of the order of 10 μs) impulses overlaid on slower (millisecond-scale) “background” current. The background-to-peak UUL current-pulse amplitudes ranged from 3.4–289.2 A with the median being 30.1 A. The median pulse total duration and full-width at half-maximum (FWHM) were 14.1 μs and 4.9 μs, respectively. The median background-to-peak and 10-to-90% risetimes were 3.2 and 2.0 μs, respectively. Interpulse intervals ranged from 4.2–132.8 μs, with the median being 20 μs. Generally speaking, pulse amplitudes were larger, background currents were higher, and interpulse intervals were shorter at later times during UULs. It is likely that the UULs with higher background currents at later times were more closely approached by a downward leader branch versus the lower-current UULs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105420
JournalAtmospheric Research
StatePublished - Apr 1 2021


  • Atmospheric electricity
  • Charge transferred to ground
  • Current measurements
  • Lightning
  • Upward positive leaders
  • Upward unconnected leaders

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Inferences on upward leader characteristics from measured currents'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this