Total Lightning Uses in Operational Terminal Aerodrome Forecasting

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Monday, 5 January 2015: 2:00 PM
225AB (Phoenix Convention Center - West and North Buildings)
Bernie Meier, NOAA/NWS, Boulder, CO

Handout (812.9 kB)

Until very recently, cloud-to-ground lightning strike information has been the primary lightning information used in operational forecasting in the National Weather Service. Cloud-to-cloud (as well as in-cloud and cloud-to-air) lightning often precedes cloud-to-ground lightning and goes undetected by forecasters unless the storm is close enough to be observed visually and/or audibly. To aid in observing these non-cloud-to-ground lightning strikes, forecasters at the National Weather Service office in Boulder, Colorado have had access to real-time total lightning flash information over the past year. This total lightning data detects all lightning strikes, not simply those that hit the ground. Use of these data has given forecasters the opportunity to identify thunderstorms more quickly. Prior to having access to total lightning detection, identifying with certainty that a radar echo was a thunderstorm was challenging. Forecasters often had to wait until a cloud-to-ground lightning strike occurred or observed lightning or thunder was reported. In fact, there are many occasions where it is uncertain if a convective cell will produce lightning at all. Additionally, attempting to predict when lightning will begin offers a further challenge. Utilization of the total lightning network helps alleviates these uncertainties by allowing forecasters to see the first lightning produced. Data from the total lightning network have real advantages for forecast offices prone to convective weather. For example, thunderstorms often form near or over the Denver International Airport. Use of the total lightning data has led to more timely amendments and more accurate forecasts of thunderstorm activity for that terminal since forecasters can now observe the first lightning produced rather than waiting for a cloud-to-ground strike or a visual/audible observation of a thunderstorm. This has allowed forecasters to assume a more proactive role in thunderstorm forecasting for aviation purposes.