Evaluation Of Human-made Structures Impact On Lightning Data Featured As Research Spotlight

As cell phone towers continue to fill the landscape, evaluating the influence of such human-made structures and their impact on lightning data continues to be a priority for one research scientist.

A recent article by Darrel Kingfield, a research scientist at the University of Oklahoma Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies working at the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory, was selected by the editors of Geophysical Research Letters to be features as a Research Spotlight on EOS.org. The paper, “Antenna structures and cloud-to-ground lightning location: 1995-2015,” explores spatial analyses of cloud-to-ground lightning occurrences because of the rapid expansion of antenna towers across the United States.

Kristin Calhoun, an OU CIMMS research scientist also working at NOAA NSSL, contributed to the article.

Research Spotlights provide an overview and summary of research topics, providing context for a broader Earth, space and science audience, along with science journalists.

Key points of Kingfield’s research include:

  • Tower lightning can constitute a larger fraction of overall cloud-to-ground lightning measured in an area, with areas particularly near taller towers seeing a 500 percent increase in cloud-to-ground lightning over a small area. These anomalies have been underexplored in previous lightning climatologies.
  • Shorter cell phone towers appear to be more susceptible to lightning in winter storms because of different convective growth and charging mechanisms historically observed in winter storms.

For the full Research Spotlight, visit https://eos.org/research-spotlights/antenna-towers-attract-additional-lightning-strikes.

Tower-initiated lightning observed from a Wichita, Kan., neighborhood on 9 June 2007. (Photo by Kiel L. Ortega/ OU CIMMS)
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NSSL Announces Passing of Pioneering Lightning Researcher Dave Rust

We are saddened to announce the death of one of the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory’s renowned scientists who made significant and revolutionary contributions to thunderstorm science. David “Dave” Rust, NSSL scientist emeritus, passed away surrounded by family on Monday, May 8, 2017.

A physicist and observational scientist, Rust pioneered creative ways to measure storms for more than 35 years until his retirement from NSSL in 2010. From mobile laboratories to instrumented storm-penetrating balloons, Rust’s measurements have shaped our present understanding of how storms become charged and produce lightning.

“I have always been in awe of nature,” said Rust in 2011 as he recalled lying on his front lawn in New Braunfels, Texas, watching the changing shapes of summertime cumulus clouds. He was an only child who loved to study, tinker and build.

Retired NSSL scientist Dave Rust, and then grad student Sean Waugh look at a static electricity exhibit with Exploratorium staff.

 

It was during graduate school at New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro, New Mexico, that Rust stumbled into the field of atmospheric electricity. He was measuring radon flow in mountain canyons for his master’s work, but found something magical about the weather. In his spare time he helped with thunderstorm projects, eventually moving his research into atmospheric electricity. His doctoral dissertation became the foundation of his career: the electrical conditions near the bases of thunderclouds using measurements from a tethered balloon.

As a postdoctoral fellow in Boulder, Colorado, he used “free-ballooning” to measure the electric field inside thunderstorms. He continued this work at NSSL, where he directed a fleet of mobile research facilities (excluding mobile radars) for decades. Beginning with the mobile lab he helped build at NSSL out of an old Suburban truck in 1979, the armada now includes mobile ballooning facilities, field coordination vehicles, mobile mesonet vehicles and mobile radars.

Dave Rust briefs his crew in front of a mobile lab.

 

Rust saw the value in going out to find the storms rather than waiting for them to come to NSSL. Countless other scientists and research projects have benefited from the ability to measure temperature, pressure, dew point, wind speed and direction, the electric field, and even return stroke velocities in a storm.

“I get a great deal of satisfaction supporting other research,” he said in 2014.

Rust co-wrote a graduate level textbook with NSSL’s Don MacGorman, “The Electrical Nature of Storms.” A review by a colleague said, “The book is clearly the best compilation of material on storm electricity that exists today.” He has also advised and mentored numerous graduate students over the years.

Rust lead the way in many endeavors, including becoming the first NSSL scientist to receive the honor of being elected Fellow of the American Geophysical Union in 2014. Established in 1962, the Fellows program recognizes AGU members who have attained acknowledged eminence in the Earth and space sciences as valued by their peers and vetted by a Union-wide committee of Fellows.

In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting donations be made in Dave Rust’s name to the Parkinson Foundation of Oklahoma City and the Oklahoma Chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. For his full obituary, visit The Norman Transcript.

Dave Rust tries to extract an Electric Field Meter from a cactus during a field campaign.
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NSSL researcher’s new book illuminates state of the science in lightning physics

Vlad Mazur
Vlad Mazur

The current understanding of lightning physics is the focus of a new book published by physicist Vladislav Mazur, based on his more than 30 year career at NSSL. Principles of Lightning Physics presents and discusses the most up-to-date physical concepts that govern many lightning events in nature, including lightning interactions with man-made structures.

Mazur’s approach to the understanding of lightning — – to seek out, and to show what is common to all lightning flashes —- are illustrated by an analysis of each type of lightning and the multitude of lightning-related features. Using this approach, the book examines the work that has gone into the development of new physical concepts, and provides critical evaluations of the existing knowledge of the physics of lightning and the lexicon of terms and definitions used in lightning research.

Since joining NSSL in 1984, Mazur has produced research on many aspects of lightning, from lightning interactions with aircraft and ground structures to lightning processes and lightning physics. He was a pioneer of high-speed photography of lightning in the early 1990s.

The book was released this month by the Institute of Physics Publishing.

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2015 Spring Warning Project will look at new severe weather warning guidance

Researchers and forecasters work side by side in the Hazardous Weather Testbed.

Several experiments to improve National Weather Service severe weather warnings will be conducted this spring in the NOAA Hazardous Weather Testbed (HWT) as part of the annual Experimental Warning Program, a joint project of the National Weather Service and NSSL/CIMMS to support NOAA’s goal to evolve the National Weather Service and build a Weather-Ready Nation. The EWP’s Spring Warning Project will run from May 4 through June 12, and provides a conceptual framework and a physical space to foster collaboration between research and operations to test and evaluate emerging technologies and science.

Forecasters will evaluate an updated Lightning Jump Algorithm (LJA), based on the GOES-R Geostationary Lightning Mapper, that was enhanced based on feedback from forecasters participating in the 2014 program. In severe storms, rapid increases in lightning flash rate, or “lightning jumps,” typically precede severe weather such as tornadoes, hail, and straight line winds at the surface by tens of minutes.  These evaluations will help prepare for possible operational implementation in 2016 following the launch of GOES-R.

Earth Networks’ total lightning and total lightning derived products, including storm-based flash rates tracks, time-series, and three levels of thunderstorm alerts will be evaluated in real time, building upon the initial evaluation in 2014. The 2015 evaluation will test the feasibility of use and performance under the stress of real-time warning operations.

A new set of high-resolution Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) models will serve as a prototype for developing the “Warn-on-Forecast” warning paradigm. Feedback from this project will go into developing new model tools capable of managing the large amounts of model information associated with future forecast systems.

During three weeks of the experiment, forecasters will assess a new tool using rapidly-updating high-resolution gridded Probabilistic Hazard Information (PHI) as the basis for next-generation severe weather warnings. This experiment is part of a broad effort to revitalize the NWS watch/warning paradigm known as Forecasting a Continuum of Environmental Threats (FACETs). The major emphasis of the HWT PHI experiment will be on initial testing of concepts related to human-computer interaction while generating short-fused high-impact Probabilistic Hazard Information for severe weather. The long-term goal of this effort is to migrate the refined concepts and methodologies that result from this experiment into Hazard Services, the next generation warning tool for the NWS, for further testing and evaluation in the HWT prior to operational deployment.

This year will mark the inaugural HWT Experiment with Emergency Managers. The EMs will be provide feedback on their interpretation of experimental probabilistic forecasts generated in the HWT from the PHI experiment and the Experimental Forecast Program (EFP). This feedback will be used in conjunction with feedback from forecasters to refine how the uncertainty information is generated and disseminated.

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CIMMS/NSSL researchers work to get West Texas lightning data in AWIPS in time for severe weather

For the past few weeks, Darrel Kingfield and Dr. Kristin Calhoun from CIMMS/NSSL and Dr. Eric Bruning from Texas Tech University have been working alongside forecasters from the National Weather Service (NWS) Forecast Office in Lubbock, Texas, to generate and integrate real-time 1km lightning products into the Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System-2 (AWIPS-2). AWIPS-2 is the weather forecasting, display and analysis package currently being used by the NWS. The team pushed hard to get these products functional for potential severe weather on April 16 and were successful.

Two products — Flash Extent Density and Flash Initiation Density — are gridded visualizations of total lightning data from Lightning Mapping Arrays (LMA). There are several arrays across the U.S. that are able to map the three-dimensional shape, extent and development of branched lightning channels. These data are an essential component of modern lightning detection and physics studies, because they reliably map the extent of the in-cloud charge reservoirs tapped by each lightning flash. Both of these products have been successfully evaluated in the Hazardous Weather Testbed.

A comparison of the 2000 UTC 1 min. flash extent density (left) and mean flash area (right) for a supercell over Kingfisher County, Oklahoma on 16 May 2010. This storm produced a wide swath of giant hail (>2" in diameter), causing severe damage to buildings and vehicles in it path.
An example of the lightning products installed at the NWSFO in Lubbock, TX. This is a comparison of the 2000 UTC 1 min. flash extent density (left) and mean flash area (right) for a supercell over Kingfisher County, Oklahoma on 16 May 2010. This storm produced a wide swath of giant hail (>2″ in diameter), causing severe damage to buildings and vehicles in its path.

A third product, the experimental Flash Area product from Texas Tech University, was also integrated into AWIPS-2. Forecasters have seen in the LMA data that small, compact flashes are mostly associated with robust or developing convection. As thunderstorms mature and reach the subsequent dissipation stage, the flash area starts to increase. The transfer of these products to operations will provide the developers, researchers and forecasters with the opportunity to learn more about how total lightning products can be utilized in the forecast and warning decision process.

This work benefits operational forecasters, highlights research to operations transitions, and supports NOAA’s work to evolve the National Weather Service. It also supports NSSL’s Grand Scientific Challenge to predict useful warnings of lightning activity one hour in advance.

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NSSL/CIMMS scientist to brief NWS forecasters

Screen Shot 2014-05-15 at 10.48.39 AMKristin Calhoun (NSSL/CIMMS) will give an invited webinar to National Weather Service meteorologists and hydrologists on April 1, 2015, about current lightning prediction products in research and development at NSSL. Calhoun will also discuss the NOAA Hazardous Weather Testbed (HWT) and how forecaster feedback is used to evaluate and refine the products.The webinar is part of a monthly series for NWS Science Operations Officers and Development and Operations Hydrologists that benefits operational forecasters, highlights research to operations transitions, and supports NOAA’s work to evolve the National Weather Service.

It has long been theorized, and in limited studies demonstrated, that the use of total lightning detections and associated derivative products could have positive impacts on the warning process for thunderstorm events. Two total lightning algorithms to potentially improve short-term prediction and warnings of severe storms have been evaluated in the Hazardous Weather Testbed (HWT) in Norman, Oklahoma.

In severe storms, rapid increases in lightning flash rate, or “lightning jumps,” typically precede severe weather, such as tornadoes, hail and straight line winds, at the surface by tens of minutes. The GOES-R Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) will allow the use of continuous total lightning observations and the lightning jump concept operationally throughout the United States. A total lightning jump algorithm (LJA) that can be used by NWS forecasters to enhance situational awareness and diagnose convective trends was evaluated in the HWT as part of the experimental warning program in 2014 and will be evaluated again in 2015.

Earth Networks (ENI), a private company that provides lightning data and products, has indicated the potential for their total lightning data and “Dangerous Thunderstorm Alerts” to increase lead-time over current National Weather Service (NWS) severe weather and tornado warnings, while maintaining a similar probability of detection and false alarm ratio. This project integrates the ENI total lightning data and products into the NWS operational software and tests the feasibility of use and performance under the stress of real time warning operations.

In 2014, 18 NWS forecasters visited the HWT during a period of six weeks, 21 July-29 August, for a full product evaluation. The forecasters completed a series of six two hour weather-warning simulations of marginally severe storms to high-impact tornadic events throughout the United States. The 2015 HWT experiment will build upon the initial evaluation in 2014, including enhancements based on forecaster feedback.

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Dave Rust elected AGU Fellow

Dave Rust briefs his crew in front of a mobile lab.
Dave Rust briefs his crew in front of a mobile lab.

NSSL retiree W. David Rust has been elected Fellow of the American Geophysical Union, the first NSSL scientist to receive the honor.

He joins three other NOAA scientists who will be celebrated during the Honors Ceremony and banquet at the 2014 AGU Fall Meeting Dec. 17 in San Francisco. They are Michael J. McPhaden and James Overland, both with the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory; and David D. Parrish with the Chemical Sciences Division of the NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory.

Rust has made significant and revolutionary contributions to thunderstorm science, especially through observation platforms from mobile laboratories to instrumented storm-penetrating balloons. Rust’s measurements have contributed much to our present understanding of how storms become charged and produce lightning.

It was during graduate school at New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro, New Mexico, that Rust stumbled into the field of atmospheric electricity. He was measuring radon flow in mountain canyons for his Master’s work, but found something magical about the weather.  In his spare time he helped with thunderstorm projects, eventually moving his research into atmospheric electricity.  His doctoral dissertation became the foundation of his career: the electrical conditions near the bases of thunderclouds using measurements from a tethered balloon.

“Tethered doesn’t work,” Rust said, so he built something that did. As a post doctoral fellow in Boulder, Colorado, he used “free-ballooning” to measure the electric field inside thunderstorms. “I think that probably mobile ballooning would be my biggest career success,” Rust said.

Rust directed NSSL’s fleet of mobile research facilities (excluding mobile radars) for decades.  Beginning with the mobile lab he helped build at NSSL out of an old Suburban truck in 1979, the armada now includes mobile ballooning facilities, field coordination vehicles, mobile mesonet vehicles and mobile radars.  Rust saw the value in going out to find the storms rather than waiting for them to come to NSSL.  Countless other scientists and research projects have benefited from the ability to measure temperature, pressure, dew point, wind speed and direction, the electric field, and even return stroke velocities in a storm. “I get a great deal of satisfaction supporting other research,” he said.

Rust co-wrote a graduate level textbook with NSSL’s Don MacGorman, “The Electrical Nature of Storms.”  A review by a colleague said, “The book is clearly the best compilation of material on storm electricity that exists today.” He has also advised and mentored numerous graduate students over the years.

Rust has a message for his colleagues:  “I really appreciate the help and collaboration of the staff at NSSL during three decades.  Whatever success I’ve had professionally has been in large part the result of collaborations with, and a tremendous amount of help from NSSL people.”

Established in 1962, the Fellows program recognizes AGU members who have attained

acknowledged eminence in the Earth and space sciences as valued by their peers and vetted by a Union- wide committee of Fellows. Primary criteria for evaluation in scientific eminence are a major breakthrough or discovery, paradigm shift, or sustained impact.

 

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Scientists study storm electricity in Florida

Simultaneous balloon launches in north Florida.
Simultaneous balloon launches in north Florida. Click on image to see the YouTube video!

NSSL is wrapping up a three-week project to provide the first ever simultaneous measurements of the vertical structures of microphysics, electrical charge, and electric fields in Florida storms.  The project is a collaboration with the International Center for Lightning Research and Testing (ICLRT) and the University of Oklahoma, funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the GOES-R program office.

During the project, NSSL is launching two balloon-borne instruments simultaneously into each targeted storm; one to measure in situ electric fields and one to measure the number, size, and type of precipitation particles along a vertical profile through the storm.  The microphysics data from both balloons will be used to improve the microphysics schemes used in weather forecast models.  Using OU’s mobile polarimetric radar, scientists are collecting additional data on the same storms to help evaluate and refine schemes for determining precipitation type from polarimetric radar measurements.

The microphysics measurements from the balloon-borne instruments will also be combined with lightning mapping and extensive ground-based triggered lightning measurements at the ICLRT to improve understanding of the storm processes that produce lightning.

These data will aid development of applications of lightning data from existing detection networks and from the planned GOES-R Geosynchronous Lightning Mapper.

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Forecasters to test experimental lightning data

Screen Shot 2014-05-15 at 10.48.39 AMNOAA National Weather Service (NWS) forecasters will test how lightning data impacts the warning process during convective events in the NOAA Hazardous Weather Testbed from July 21-August 29. The project is a collaboration between NSSL and Earth Networks, Inc., a private weather company.

Earth Networks has indicated the potential for its continental scale total lightning network (ENTLN) data and associated “Dangerous Thunderstorm Alerts” (DTAs) to increase forecaster situational awareness and lead times. Prior limited studies have shown the use of total lightning detections and associated derivative products could have positive impacts on the warning process.

During the tests, Earth Networks lightning data and its DTA products will be implemented into NWS operational software (AWIPS2) in the NOAA Hazardous Weather Testbed. Forecasters will complete a series of weather-warning scenarios in displaced real time, ranging from marginally severe to high-impact tornadic events for a variety of geographic locations.

These tests will evaluate the feasibility of using this data in warning operations, as well as the impact on warnings issued by NWS forecasters. The final outcome of this project is to make recommendations on possible product improvements, and determine whether Earth Networks products should become part of the operational product suites available to NWS offices nationally.

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