Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Houston called ’lightning capital of Texas’

16.07.2002

COLLEGE STATION - Lightning may not often strike twice in the same place, but it sure can hang out repeatedly in the same neighborhood. In Texas, that neighborhood is Houston, which Texas A&M University atmospheric scientists call the "lightning capital of the state."

Results of their lightning research, indicating that the high-energy stuff likes the city life, was originally published in Journal of Geophysical Research - Atmospheres, and an overview of that study is featured in the online July 1 issue of the prestigious science magazine, Nature.

The lightning study was co-authored by Texas A&M graduate student Scott Steiger, Texas A&M atmospheric scientist Richard Orville and Gary Huffines of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

"We looked at 12 years of data and found that Houston gets more lightning than surrounding less metropolitan areas," Orville said. "The greater lightning frequency is not seasonal and may result from a combination of urban heat island effects and air pollution."

During the 12-year period from 1989 to 2000, the Houston area experienced 1.6 million cloud-to-ground lightning flashes, with 75 percent of them occurring in the summer months of June, July and August, 12 percent in December, January and February and the rest distributed throughout the remainder of the year. Refining of earlier methods enabled the researchers to study the concentration of lightning flashes in areas as small as 5 km.

Data analysis, including computer simulations, suggests that Houston’s urban heat island effect causes clouds and thunderstorms. Urban areas heat up faster than agricultural lands because of the increased residential density and industrial activity, in Houston’s case resulting in flow of cooler sea air inland toward the city center. As the cooler air rushes in, it forces the warmer air to rise, and as that air rises, moisture in it condenses, clouds form and thunderstorms occur. Further sea breezes then push the storms toward the northeast, with the observed lightning maximum over and to the northeast of the city.

Houston’s air pollution may also be contributing to the frequent lightning. Soot particles emitted as pollutants from cars and power plants join other atmospheric aerosols originating from human activities and form the nuclei of cloud particles.

"Scientists believe that the charge separation mechanism of thunderstorms is determined by the size, concentration and phase of interacting cloud particles, in addition to temperature, vertical air velocity and liquid water content," Orville notes. "So the increased aerosol loading in urban areas may result in enhanced lightning activity and may be responsible for the observed high flash density in the Houston area."

Nationwide, lightning occurs when electric charges build up in clouds and then discharge to the ground. The polarity of lightning varies, with 90 percent of flashes bringing negative charges to ground and 10 percent, positive to ground. According to Orville, the positive discharges are more dangerous and often occur over forested areas, igniting destructive fires.

Lightning data is collected by a network of 106 sensors distributed over the 48 contiguous states. The sensors measure the electromagnetic fields from lightning discharges, much like static on a radio. Researchers use instruments to process recordings of the "static" and triangulate the location of the spot where the lightning strike occurred.

The lightning study was funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Texas Air Research Center. An earlier publication in Geophysical Research Letters (May 2001) was co-authored by Orville, Steiger and Huffines, fellow Texas A&M faculty members John Nielsen-Gammon and Renyi Zhang and graduate students Brandon Ely and Stephen Phillips, along with Steve Allen and William Read of the National Weather Service, Houston-Galveston office. Lightning sensor data was obtained by the National Lightning Detection Network, operated by Global Atmospherics, Inc., of Tucson, Ariz.

"Sea breezes and storms have always converged over Houston, but 400 years ago it was just a natural effect, not influenced by people," Orville observed. "Now the 3 to 4 million persons who live in the Houston area, plus the 49 percent of the petroleum refining capacity in the U.S. located there create a powerful heat island effect, resulting in more intense cumulus cloud formation and more intense thunderstorms."

Judith White | EurekAlert

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht A promising target in the quest for a 1-million-year-old Antarctic ice core
24.05.2018 | University of Washington

nachricht Tropical Peat Swamps: Restoration of Endangered Carbon Reservoirs
24.05.2018 | Leibniz-Zentrum für Marine Tropenforschung (ZMT)

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Powerful IT security for the car of the future – research alliance develops new approaches

The more electronics steer, accelerate and brake cars, the more important it is to protect them against cyber-attacks. That is why 15 partners from industry and academia will work together over the next three years on new approaches to IT security in self-driving cars. The joint project goes by the name Security For Connected, Autonomous Cars (SecForCARs) and has funding of €7.2 million from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Infineon is leading the project.

Vehicles already offer diverse communication interfaces and more and more automated functions, such as distance and lane-keeping assist systems. At the same...

Im Focus: Molecular switch will facilitate the development of pioneering electro-optical devices

A research team led by physicists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed molecular nanoswitches that can be toggled between two structurally different states using an applied voltage. They can serve as the basis for a pioneering class of devices that could replace silicon-based components with organic molecules.

The development of new electronic technologies drives the incessant reduction of functional component sizes. In the context of an international collaborative...

Im Focus: LZH showcases laser material processing of tomorrow at the LASYS 2018

At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.

At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...

Im Focus: Self-illuminating pixels for a new display generation

There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?

At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...

Im Focus: Explanation for puzzling quantum oscillations has been found

So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics

Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

In focus: Climate adapted plants

25.05.2018 | Event News

Save the date: Forum European Neuroscience – 07-11 July 2018 in Berlin, Germany

02.05.2018 | Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

In focus: Climate adapted plants

25.05.2018 | Event News

Flow probes from the 3D printer

25.05.2018 | Machine Engineering

Less is more? Gene switch for healthy aging found

25.05.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>