E-Journal of Severe Storms Meteorology

E-Journal of Severe Storms Meteorology, Vol 8, No 6 (2013)

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Early History of Using Total Lightning Data at NWS Melbourne, Florida

Stephen John Hodanish, Earle Williams, Bob Boldi


This forecaster’s note documents the early history (1989–1998) of the use of total lightning data within an operational forecast and warning environment.  As early as 1989, the Melbourne field office of the National Weather Service had access to real-time cloud-to-ground lightning data. In 1993, the Lightning Detection and Ranging system (capable of detecting all types of lightning flashes) became available.  In 1996, these two lightning data sets, along with radar data, were incorporated into the Lightning Imaging Sensor Data Applications Display (LISDAD) system.  During a 3-y period (1996–1998 inclusive), the LISDAD permitted forecasters to observe relationships of total lightning with a variety of convective events, including pulse-severe thunderstorms in the warm season, cool-season tornadic supercells, tornadic mini-supercells in tropical cyclones, and non-severe storms.  Major findings included: 1) “lightning jumps” with warm-season pulse-severe storms several minutes prior to reported severe weather; 2) cool-season tornadic supercell storms with very large total flash rates; and 3) tornadic mini-supercells in tropical cyclones produced only small amounts of lightning, however this sporadic activity benefited forecasters by implying stronger updraft development in a favorably sheared environment, in turn implying possible storm rotation and potential tornadogenesis.  Finally, given the availability of total lightning datasets to operational forecasters, local forecast products could more effectively provide the public information about the overall lightning threat.

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