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Maximum hurricane intensity preceded by increase in lightning frequency

An Erratum to this article was published on 21 May 2009


Hurricanes are the Earth’s most deadly storms, causing tremendous devastation around the globe every year. Forecasters are quite successful in predicting the pathways of hurricanes days in advance1, but hurricane intensification is less accurately predicted. Here we analyse the evolution of maximum winds and total lightning frequency every 6 h during the entire lifetime of 56 hurricanes around the globe. We find that in all of these hurricanes, lightning frequency and maximum sustained winds are significantly correlated (mean correlation coefficient of 0.82), where the maximum sustained winds and minimum pressures in hurricanes are preceded by increases in lightning activity approximately one day before the peak winds. We suggest that increases in lightning activity in hurricanes are related to enhanced convection that increases the rate of moistening of the lower troposphere, which in turn leads to the intensification of hurricanes2. As lightning activity can now be monitored continuously in hurricanes at any location around the globe3, lightning data may contribute to better hurricane forecasts in the future.

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Figure 1: Global distribution and paths of the 58 hurricanes used in this study.
Figure 2: Hurricane Dennis 5–14 July 2005.
Figure 3: Lag times between the maximum lightning activity and the maximum sustained winds in 56 hurricanes.
Figure 4: The correlation coefficients (r) between maximum sustained winds and lightning activity.


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This research was financially supported in part by the Research Authority of the Open University of Israel. WWLLN data were kindly made available by R. Dowden (University of Otago, New Zealand) and R. Holzworth (University of Washington, USA).

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C.P. instigated and directed the research, analysed the hurricane data and wrote the manuscript. M.A. analysed the lightning data and was involved in the data interpretation. Y.Y. was involved in the project planning and data interpretation.

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Correspondence to Colin Price.

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Price, C., Asfur, M. & Yair, Y. Maximum hurricane intensity preceded by increase in lightning frequency. Nature Geosci 2, 329–332 (2009).

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