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Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres

Sprite observations above the U.S. High Plains in relation to their parent thunderstorm systems


  • Walter A. Lyons


Transient luminous events (sprites, blue jets, elves) above large mesoscale convective systems (MCSs) over the U.S. High Plains have been routinely monitored from the Yucca Ridge Field Station near Fort Collins, Colorado using ground-based low-light video systems. We analyzed 36 sprites above the Nebraska MCS of August 6, 1994. The results lend further support to the hypothesis that sprites are almost uniquely associated with positive cloud-to-ground (+CG) lightning flashes. Sprite-associated +CGs also averaged substantially larger peak currents than the remaining +CG population (81 kA versus 30 kA in this storm system). There is some evidence that sprite-associated +CGs also have higher stroke multiplicity. This study yields no evidence of sprites associated with negative CG events. In the central United States an additional requirement appears to be that the parent MCS has a contiguous radar reflectivity area exceeding 20–25,000 km2. The majority of the sprites occur above the large stratiform precipitation region and not the high-reflectivity convective core of the MCS. Triangulation of a limited number of paired images (from September 7, 1994) suggests that the sprite is generally centered within 50 km of the parent +CG. Assuming the +CG provides the range, single-image photogrammetric analyses provide estimates of the maximum vertical extent of the sprites. For this storm the sprite tops averaged 77 km with a maximum of 88 km. The bases averaged 50 km but with a few sprite tendrils extending as low as 31 km.

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