34th Conference on Radar Meteorology


Radar Differential Phase Signatures of Ice Orientation for the Prediction of Lightning Initiation and Cessation

Lawrence D. Carey, University of Alabama, Huntsville, AL; and W. A. Petersen and W. Deierling

The majority of lightning-related casualties typically occur during thunderstorm initiation (e.g., first flash) or dissipation (e.g., last flash). The physics of electrification and lightning production during thunderstorm initiation is fairly well understood. As such, the literature includes a number of studies presenting various radar techniques (using reflectivity and, if available, other dual-polarimetric parameters) for the anticipation of initial electrification and first lightning flash. These radar techniques have shown considerable skill at forecasting first flash. On the other hand, electrical processes and lightning production during thunderstorm dissipation are not nearly as well understood and few, if any, successful techniques have been developed to anticipate the last flash and subsequent cessation of lightning. One promising approach involves the use of dual-polarimetric radar variables to infer the presence of oriented ice crystals in lightning producing storms. In the absence of strong vertical electric fields, ice crystals fall with their largest (semi-major) axis in the horizontal associated with gravitational and aerodynamic forces. In thunderstorms, strong vertical electric fields (100-200 kV m-1) have been shown to orient small (< 2 mm) ice crystals such that their semi-major axis is vertical (or nearly vertical). After a lightning flash, the electric field is typically relaxed and prior radar research suggests that ice crystals rapidly resume their preferred horizontal orientation. In active thunderstorms, the vertical electric field quickly recovers and the ice crystals repeat this cycle of orientation for each nearby flash. This change in ice crystal orientation from primarily horizontal to vertical during the development of strong vertical electric fields prior to a lightning flash forms the physical basis for anticipating lightning initiation and, potentially, cessation. Research has shown that radar reflectivity (Z) and other co-polar back-scattering radar measurements like differential reflectivity (Zdr) typically measured by operational dual-polarimetric radars are not sensitive to these changes in ice crystal orientation.

However, prior research has demonstrated that oriented ice crystals cause significant propagation effects that can be routinely measured by most dual-polarimetric radars from X-band (3 cm) to S-band (10 cm) wavelengths using the differential propagation phase shift (often just called differential phase, phidp) or its range derivative, the specific differential phase (Kdp). Advantages of the differential phase include independence from absolute or relative power calibration, attenuation, differential attenuation and relative insensitivity to ground clutter and partial beam occultation effects (as long as the signal remains above noise). In research mode, these sorts of techniques have been used to anticipate initial cloud electrification, lightning initiation, and cessation.

In this study, we develop a simplified model of ice crystal size, shape, orientation, dielectric, and associated radar scattering and propagation effects in order to simulate various idealized scenarios of ice crystals responding to a hypothetical electric field and their dual-polarimetric radar signatures leading up to lightning initiation and particularly cessation. The sensitivity of the Kdp ice orientation signature to various ice properties and radar wavelength will be explored. Since Kdp is proportional to frequency in the Rayleigh-Gans scattering regime, the ice orientation signatures should be more obvious at higher (lower) frequencies (wavelengths). As a result, simulations at radar wavelengths from 10 cm down to 1 cm (Ka-band) will be conducted. Resonance effects will be considered using the T-matrix method. Since most Kdp–based observations have been shown at S-band, we will present ice orientation signatures from C-band (UAH/NASA ARMOR) and X-band (UAH MAX) dual-polarimetric radars located in Northern Alabama. Issues related to optimal radar scanning for the detection of oriented ice will be discussed. Preliminary suggestions on how these differential phase signatures of oriented ice could contribute to lightning initiation and cessation algorithms will be presented.

extended abstract  Extended Abstract (824K)

wrf recording  Recorded presentation

Session 10A, Polarimetric Radar I
Thursday, 8 October 2009, 8:00 AM-10:00 AM, Auditorium

Previous paper  Next paper

Browse or search entire meeting

AMS Home Page