Inverted-polarity electrical structures in thunderstorms in the Severe Thunderstorm Electrification and Precipitation Study (STEPS)

W. David Rust, Donald R. MacGorman, Eric C. Bruning, Stephanie A. Weiss, Paul R. Krehbiel, Ronald J. Thomas, William Rison, Timothy Hamlin, Jeremiah Harlin

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161 Scopus citations


Balloon-borne electric field soundings and lightning mapping data have been analyzed for three of the storms that occurred in the Severe Thunderstorm Electrification and Precipitation Study field program in 2000 to determine if the storms had inverted-polarity electrical structures. The polarities of all or some of the vertically stacked charge regions in such storms are opposite to the polarities observed at comparable heights in normal storms. Analyses compared the charge structures inferred from electric field soundings in the storms with charges inferred from three-dimensional lightning mapping data. Charge structures were inferred from electric field profiles by combining the one-dimensional approximation of Gauss's law with additional information from three-dimensional patterns in the electric field vectors. The three different ways of inferring the charge structure in the storms were found to complement each other and to be consistent overall. Charge deposition by lightning possibly occurred and increased the charge complexity of one of the storms. Many of the cloud flashes in each case were inverted-polarity flashes. Two storms produced ground flash activity comprised predominantly of positive ground flashes. One storm, which was an isolated thunderstorm, produced inverted-polarity cloud flashes, but no flashes to ground. The positive and negative thunderstorm charge regions were found at altitudes where, respectively, negative and positive charge would be found in normal-polarity storms. Thus, we conclude that these storms had anomalous and inverted-polarity electrical structures. Collectively, these three cases (along with the limited cases in the refereed literature) provide additional evidence that thunderstorms can have inverted-polarity electrical structures.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)247-271
Number of pages25
JournalAtmospheric Research
Issue number1-4
StatePublished - Jul 2005


  • Charge
  • Electric field
  • Lightning
  • Lightning mapping
  • Sounding
  • Storm electricity


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