The Influence of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation on Cloud-to-Ground Lightning Activity along the Gulf Coast. Part I: Lightning Climatology

Mark LaJoie, Arlene Laing
2008 Monthly Weather Review  
Cloud-to-ground (CG) lightning flashes from the National Lightning Detection Network are analyzed to determine if the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle influences lighting activity along the Gulf Coast region. First, an updated climatology of lightning was developed for the region. Flash density maps are constructed from an 8-yr dataset (1995)(1996)(1997)(1998)(1999)(2000)(2001)(2002) and compared with past lightning climatologies. Second, lightning variability is compared with the
more » ... pared with the phases of ENSO. Winter lightning distributions are compared with one published study of ENSO and lightning days in the Southeast. Flash density patterns are, overall, consistent with past U.S. lightning climatology. However, the peak flash density for the annual mean was less than observed in previous climatologies, which could be due to the disproportionately large percentage of cool ENSO periods compared to previous lightning climatologies. The highest annual lightning counts were observed in 1997, which consisted of mostly warm ENSO seasons; the 1997-98 El Niño was one of the strongest on record. The lowest lightning counts were observed in 2000, which had mostly cool or neutral phases of ENSO including the lowest Niño-3.4 anomaly of the study period. Analysis of winter season lightning flash densities substantiated the role of the ENSO cycle in winter season lightning fluctuations. Winter lightning activity increased dramatically during the 1997-98 El Niño. The lowest winter flash densities are associated with cool ENSO phases. Although 8 yr is inadequate to establish a long-term pattern, results indicate that ENSO influences lightning and that further study is warranted. As more years of lightning data are acquired, a more complete climatology can be developed.
doi:10.1175/2007mwr2227.1 fatcat:fvkpzmjz65c63puhhkpe6mbjji