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Supercell Lightning Simulations

In early June, 1995, a severe storm swept across the West Texas Panhandle, producing a dozen supercells, and spawning several tornados. Two tornados reached F4 strength, caused extensive damage to the towns of Dimmitt and Friona, TX, and even stripped pavement from the local highways. The animations shown here model the 1.5 hour supercell evolution on June 2, 1995.


Supercell Circulation


Intracloud Lightning Channels


Tornado Photos


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Cloud contours (QITOT+QC, isovalue = 0.037) appear in gray and precipitation (QR+QGTOT+QHTOT+QS, isovalue = 1.00) in blue. A positive vorticity field (VORT, isovalue = 8.97) is visualized as a vertical surface at the center of the storm and is colored by temperature. Colored spheres are released at the base of the storm and reveal a strong vertical updraft as they are rapidly lofted  into the upper atmosphere.  The spheres are also colored by temperature and cool as they ascend.

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Lightning channels (FLSHP + FLSHN) are shown as a volume visualization with the most intense activity occurring in the  convection region where the updraft is strongest. This lightning simulation creates realistic, fractal-like, lightning branch structures and a variety of lightning types. The supercell circulation is traced by the red line trajectories, and the Rain Mixing Ratio (QR) is shown as a colored 2D contour at the surface.

QuickTime | Real | MPEG

Photos courtesy of Ian Wittmeyer,
Dept. of Atmospheric Science, CSU

Data from these supercells were collected by researchers as part of the Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornados EXperiment (VORTEX). The VORTEX project spanned the spring seasons of 1994 and 1995 and was designed to address research questions related to tornadogenesis and tornado dynamics.  This data and research has increased the understanding of  tornado development and enhanced the ability to predict and  anticipate tornadic activity.

Researchers continue to study and analyze this data, not only to better understand tornado dynamics, but also to develop and improve 3D supercell models and lightning simulations.  Scientists at the National Severe Storms Laboratory and the University of Oklahoma are investigating the conditions and occurrence of cloud-to-ground lightning and the relationships between lightning flash rate and storm characteristics such as total ice mass and updraft mass flux. A better understanding of these relationships could lead to more accurate models and even "nowcasting" of severe storms.

June 2, 1995
Time Evolution:
1.5 hours
West Texas Panhandle, USA

Ted Mansell, NOAA/NSSL
Tim Scheitlin, NCAR/SCD


Ted Mansell, NOAA/NSSL
Donald MacGorman, NOAA/NSSL
Jerry Straka, Univ. of Oklahoma
Conrad Ziegler, NOAA/NSSL

Date Catalogued:
© 2002, UCAR, All rights reserved.