Articles | Volume 10, issue 9
08 Sep 2010
 | 08 Sep 2010

Analysis of warm season thunderstorms using an object-oriented tracking method based on radar and total lightning data

T. Rigo, N. Pineda, and J. Bech

Abstract. Monitoring thunderstorms activity is an essential part of operational weather surveillance given their potential hazards, including lightning, hail, heavy rainfall, strong winds or even tornadoes. This study has two main objectives: firstly, the description of a methodology, based on radar and total lightning data to characterise thunderstorms in real-time; secondly, the application of this methodology to 66 thunderstorms that affected Catalonia (NE Spain) in the summer of 2006. An object-oriented tracking procedure is employed, where different observation data types generate four different types of objects (radar 1-km CAPPI reflectivity composites, radar reflectivity volumetric data, cloud-to-ground lightning data and intra-cloud lightning data). In the framework proposed, these objects are the building blocks of a higher level object, the thunderstorm.

The methodology is demonstrated with a dataset of thunderstorms whose main characteristics, along the complete life cycle of the convective structures (development, maturity and dissipation), are described statistically. The development and dissipation stages present similar durations in most cases examined. On the contrary, the duration of the maturity phase is much more variable and related to the thunderstorm intensity, defined here in terms of lightning flash rate. Most of the activity of IC and CG flashes is registered in the maturity stage. In the development stage little CG flashes are observed (2% to 5%), while for the dissipation phase is possible to observe a few more CG flashes (10% to 15%). Additionally, a selection of thunderstorms is used to examine general life cycle patterns, obtained from the analysis of normalized (with respect to thunderstorm total duration and maximum value of variables considered) thunderstorm parameters. Among other findings, the study indicates that the normalized duration of the three stages of thunderstorm life cycle is similar in most thunderstorms, with the longest duration corresponding to the maturity stage (approximately 80% of the total time).