• Meteorological drivers of lightning in Alaska on seasonal and sub-seasonal timescales

      Chriest, Jonathan; Bhatt, Uma S.; Bieniek, Peter A.; Walsh, John E. (2021-05)
      Wildfire has long been a part of the Boreal forest ecosystem in Alaska and the increasing number of large fire seasons over the past 2 decades has had substantial economic and health impacts. Boreal wildfires are expected to continue to increase over the next century in part due to a projected increase in lightning. This motivates developing lightning outlooks to inform fire management decisions regarding the economic allocation of shared firefighting resources including but not limited to personnel and air tankers. The goal of this research is to identify key meteorological parameters associated with lightning processes on a stroke-by-stroke spatial scale and at hourly-to-sub-seasonal timescales. This is a first step towards developing robust lightning outlooks. In order to identify the key parameters, lightning data for the Alaska Lightning Detection Network was paired with hourly European Center Reanalysis Version 5 (ERA5) over the 2012-2019 study period. This data was analyzed on the scale of Alaska Fire Service Predictive Service Areas (PSAs) and three sub-seasons of the Alaska fire season. This strategy helped to identify regional and sub-seasonal variability and made the research operationally relevant. Key results from this research include the following. The majority of lightning occurs in the duff driven sub-season across all PSAs. Lightning, particularly in the Interior PSAs, follows a diurnal pattern with lightning on average beginning earlier in the day in the eastern portion of Alaska and later in the day in the western portion of Alaska. This distinctive pattern is not as well defined in the Coastal PSAs. Results also suggested that dry lightning may be more prevalent in portions of the western Interior than in other regions of Alaska. Lightning events were more common under specific atmospheric flow directions at 500 and 700 hPa, where these directions varied by PSA. Northeasterly and northwesterly flow aloft were most favorable for lightning in the Tanana Valley West PSA, while southerly flow aloft was more favorable for lightning in the North Slope and Upper Yukon PSAs. Finally, easterly flow was a more common pattern during lightning strokes in the Seward Peninsula and Kuskokwim Valley PSAs.