89th American Meteorological Society Annual Meeting

Tuesday, 13 January 2009: 2:00 PM
Detecting Anthropogenic Impacts on Lightning: Is There an Obvious Signal?
Room 131A (Phoenix Convention Center)
Walter A. Petersen, NASA/Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, VA; and L. D. Carey
Bell et al. (2008, J. Geophys. Res.) inferred the presence of increased (decreased) summer rainfall and storm heights over the southern tier (off the east coast) of the continental U.S. (CONUS) during the midweek. Amongst other data sources, the Bell et al. study employed Tropical Rainfall Measurement Mission (TRMM) passive microwave and precipitation radar data to reach these conclusions. Importantly, to explain the midweek increases in rainfall and storm echo top heights Bell et al. invoked the presence of anthropogenic influences via increased aerosol loading present in the middle of the work week. Conversely, Schultz et al. (2008; Geophys. Res. Lett.) argue against the Bell et al. findings, noting that no significant trend in rainfall (amount or occurrence) can be detected in rain gauge data collected from 219 surface observing stations over a 42 year period.

Based on previously suggested impacts of enhanced aerosol concentrations on precipitation microphysics and in particular, the ice phase, the results of Bell et al. suggest that in addition to the rainfall signal there may be a detectable response in lightning frequency (to the extent that the aerosol hypothesis invoked is valid). This study examines TRMM Lightning Imaging Sensor observations to detect both daily increases and decreases of lightning over the CONUS and neighboring ocean regions and further examines the possibility (through observations) of systematic direct impacts on lightning activity associated with large city locations.

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