Simulated electrification of a small thunderstorm with two-moment bulk microphysics

Edward R. Mansell, Conrad L. Ziegler, Eric C. Bruning

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

327 Scopus citations


Electrification and lightning are simulated for a small continental multicell storm. The results are consistent with observations and thus provide additional understanding of the charging processes and evolution of this storm. The first six observed lightning flashes were all negative cloud-to-ground (CG) flashes, after which intracloud (IC) flashes also occurred between middle and upper levels of the storm. The model simulation reproduces the basic evolution of lightning from low and middle levels to upper levels. The observed lightning indicated an initial charge structure of at least an inverted dipole (negative charge above positive). The simulations show that noninductive charge separation higher in the storm can enhance the main negative charge sufficiently to produce negative CG flashes before upper-level IC flashes commence. The result is a "bottom-heavy" tripole charge structure with midlevel negative charge and a lower positive charge region that is more significant than the upper positive region, in contrast to the traditional tripole structure that has a less significant lower positive charge region. Additionally, the occurrence of cloud-to-ground lightning is not necessarily a result of excess net charge carried by the storm, but it is primarily caused by the local potential imbalance between the lowest charge regions. The two-moment microphysics scheme used for this study predicted mass mixing ratio and number concentration of cloud droplets, rain, ice crystals, snow, and graupel. Bulk particle density of graupel was also predicted, which allows a single category to represent a greater range of particle characteristics. (An additional hail category is available but was not needed for the present study.) The prediction of hydrometeor number concentration is particularly critical for charge separation at higher temperatures (-5o<T<-20oC) in the mixed phase region, where ice crystals are produced by rime fracturing (Hallett-Mossop process) and by splintering of freezing drops. Cloud droplet concentration prediction also affected the rates of inductive charge separation between graupel and droplets.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)171-194
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2010


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