Cloud-to-ground lightning in the United States: NLDN results in the first decade, 1989-98 Academic Article uri icon


  • The physical and geographical characteristics of over 216 million cloud-to-ground lightning flashes recorded during the first decade (1989-98) of operation of the National Lightning Detection Network (NLDN) covering the entire continental United States are presented. These characteristics include the total cloud-to-ground flash density, the positive flash density, the percentage of positive flashes, the first stroke negative and positive peak currents, and the multiplicity for negative and positive flashes. All analyses were done with a spatial resolution of 0.2 corresponding to an approximate resolution of 20 km. Flash densities were not corrected for detection efficiency; the measured values are presented. The maximum measured flash density is found to exceed 9 flashes km-2 across Florida in the Tampa-Orlando-Cape Canaveral corridor, near Fort Myers, and between Lake Okeechobee and the Atlantic Ocean. The mean monthly flash count peaks in July at approximately 5.5 million flashes. Positive flash density maxima, greater than 0.4 flashes km-2 occur in southern Florida: Houston, Texas; and along the Texas-Louisiana border. A broad region of relatively high positive density also occurs throughout the Midwest. The mean monthly positive flash count peaks in June and July at approximately 240 000 flashes in each month. The annual mean percentage of lightning that lowered positive charge was highest in the upper Midwest, exceeding 10% or 20% throughout most of the region. High percentages are also characteristic along the West Coast. The annual percentage of positive lightning has increased from 3% in 1989 to approximately 9% in 1998. The authors believe the increase is the result of improved sensor detection capability in the past decade. The mean monthly percentage of positive lightning flashes ranged from 4% in August to 17% in December for the decade. The annual median negative peak current ranged from 30 kA in 1989, decreasing steadily to about 20 kA in 1998. The annual median positive peak current ranged from 55 kA in 1989 decreasing to about 22 kA in 1998. The annual median peak negative and positive currents have approximately the same value since 1995, the first year after the NLDN upgrade. The monthly median first stroke peak currents for the decade peak in the winter and reach a minimum in May (positive current) and July (negative current). The mean monthly negative multiplicity for the decade ranges from 2.1 in February to 2.5 from June to October. The mean monthly positive multiplicity is approximately 1.2 throughout the year. The diurnal variation of the maximum flash rate over land was examined and found to peak during 1200-2000 local time (LT) with an exception for the upper Midwest, which peaked during 2000-0400 LT. Over water surrounding the continental United States, the lightning flash rate peaks primarily in the morning hours from 0400 to 1200 LT.

published proceedings


author list (cited authors)

  • Orville, R. E., & Huffines, G. R.

citation count

  • 249

complete list of authors

  • Orville, RE||Huffines, GR

publication date

  • May 2001