The electrical structure of two supercell storms during STEPS

Donald R. MacGorman, W. David Rust, Paul Krehbiel, William Rison, Eric Bruning, Kyle Wiens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

111 Scopus citations


Balloon soundings were made through two supercell storms during the Severe Thunderstorm Electrification and Precipitation Study STEPS) in summer 2000. Instruments measured the vector electric field, temperature, pressure, relative humidity, and balloon location. For the first time, soundings penetrated both the strong updraft and the rainy downdraft region of the same supercell storm. In both storms, the strong updraft had fewer vertically separated charge regions than found near the rainy downdraft, and the updraft's lowest charge was elevated higher, its bottom being near the 40-dBZ boundary of the weak-echo vault. The simpler, elevated charge structure is consistent with the noninductive graupel-ice mechanism dominating charge generation in updrafts. In the weak-echo vault, the amount of frozen precipitation and the time for particle interactions are too small for significant charging. Inductive charging mechanisms and lightning may contribute to the additional charge regions found at lower altitudes outside the updraft. Lightning mapping showed that the in-cloud channels of a positive ground flash could be in any one of the three vertically separated positive charge regions found outside the updraft, but were in the middle region, at 6-8 km MSL, for most positive ground flashes. The observations are consistent with the electrical structure of these storms having been inverted in polarity from that of most storms elsewhere. It is hypothesized that the observed inverted-polarity cloud flashes and positive ground flashes were caused by inverted-polarity storm structure, possibly due to a larger than usual rime accretion rate for graupel in a strong updraft.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2583-2607
Number of pages25
JournalMonthly Weather Review
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2005


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