flashes that forecast?

Researchers from the University of Arizona have found that rain and lightning are intimately linked. Before you snicker at the obviousness of the findings, E. Philip Krider of the University’s Institute of Atmospheric Physics, collaborating in two independent experiments, stated that counting lightning flashes may be used to help estimate the volume of precipitation. “We found that lightning is a good tool for predicting rain volume, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a big storm or a small storm,” Krider stated in a press release. But the type of storm cloud does seem to matter. The researchers found that predictions worked best with clouds that extend vertically high up into the atmosphere. Studying storms in Florida, Krider, working with Bruce Gungle, consistently found that warm-season thunderstorms produced about 4 million gallons of rain for each lightning strike. In a separate study, Krider and Nicole Kempf looked at meteorological records of cloud-to-ground lightning and surface rainfall over the Greater Upper Mississippi River Basin during the Great Flood of 1993. They also found a strong relationship between daily rain amounts and the corresponding counts of lightning. “The rain volume does go slightly up and down, because rain sampling isn’t perfect, but it does fit a statistically testable, strong relationship,” Krider stated. “In these large ‘mesoscale’ convective systems, you can see where the lightning is, count the flashes, and immediately have an estimate of surface rainfall.”

This news brief appeared in the Random Data column of the Boston Globe’s Health/Science section on 12/16/2003.
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