Articles | Volume 28, issue 11
09 Nov 2010
 | 09 Nov 2010

Cloud-to-ground lightning over Mexico and adjacent oceanic regions: a preliminary climatology using the WWLLN dataset

B. Kucieńska, G. B. Raga, and O. Rodríguez

Abstract. This work constitutes the first climatological study of lightning over Mexico and adjacent oceanic areas for the period 2005–2009. Spatial and temporal distributions of cloud to ground lightning are presented and the processes that contribute to the lightning variability are analysed.

The data are retrieved from the World Wide Lightning Location Network (WWLLN) dataset. The current WWLL network includes 40 stations which cover much of the globe and detect very low frequency radiation ("spherics") associated with lightning.

The spatial distribution of the average yearly lightning over the continental region of Mexico shows the influence of orographic forcing in producing convective clouds with high lightning activity. However, a very high number of strikes is also observed in the States of Tabasco and Campeche, which are low-lying areas. This maximum is related to the climatological maximum of precipitation for the country and it may be associated with a region of persistent low-level convergence and convection in the southern portion of the Gulf of Mexico.

The maps of correlation between rainfall and lightning provide insight into the microphysical processes occurring within the clouds. The maritime clouds close to the coastline exhibit similar properties to continental clouds as they produce very high lightning activity.

The seasonal cycle of lightning registered by WWLLN is consistent with the LIS/OTD dataset for the selected regions. In terms of the annual distribution of cloud-to-ground strikes, July, August and September exhibit the highest number of strikes over continental Mexico. The diurnal cycle indicates that the maximum number of strikes over the continent is observed between 6 and 9 p.m. LT.

The surrounding oceanic regions were subdivided into four distinct sectors: Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean, Sub-tropical Pacific and Tropical Pacific. The Gulf of Mexico has the broadest seasonal distribution, since during winter lightning associated with mid-latitude systems also affects the region. The diurnal distribution of lightning for the Gulf of Mexico exhibits the highest number of strokes at 9 a.m. The Caribbean seasonal distribution is slightly biased towards early fall, with a clear maximum observed during October. The diurnal distribution of lightning over the Caribbean is quite uniform with a slight increase near midnight. The Subtropical Pacific has the narrowest seasonal distribution, associated with the convection observed during the "North American Monsoon", with the maximum number of strikes during August and September. In contrast, the Tropical Pacific has a broader seasonal cycle, associated with convection in the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), starting in May and lasting till October. In both adjacent Pacific regions, the strikes present a maximum in the early morning, the time of the highest frequency of land breeze.