Lightning flash rates as an indicator of tropical cyclone genesis in the Eastern North Pacific

Lesley A. Leary, Elizabeth A. Ritchie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Lightning flashes in convective tropical clusters of the eastern North Pacific Ocean are detected by the Long-Range Lightning Detection Network and are analyzed for temporal patterns in electrical activity. The rates of lightning flash discharge in the 2006 season are analyzed for both tropical cyclones and nondeveloping cloud clusters to 1) determine if there is a difference in the convective activity of these two populations and 2) find a level of electrical activity that constitutes development in a particular system. Convective activity is associated with tropical cyclogenesis and thus we use the rate of electrical discharge as a proxy for convection associated with the likelihood of organization of individual cloud clusters into a tropical depression strength system. On the basis of the rates of lightning flashes in the cloud clusters, four levels of development are defined, ranging from non- and partially developing to fully developing cloud clusters. The levels of development are further supported by the analysis of other remotely sensed observations, such as surface scatterometer winds, that allow for the description of the mesoscale and large-scale circulation patterns in which the cloud clusters are embedded. It is found that lightning flash rates distinguish those cloud clusters that do not fully develop into tropical depressions from those that do. Receiver operating characteristic curves for these groupings are calculated, and a level of flash rate can be chosen that gives a probability of detection of 67% for a false-alarm rate of 24%.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3456-3470
Number of pages15
JournalMonthly Weather Review
Issue number10
StatePublished - 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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