EGU General Assembly 2022
© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Differentiating lightning in winter and summer with characteristics of wind field and mass field

Deborah Morgenstern1,2, Isabell Stucke1,2, Thorsten Simon2, Georg J. Mayr1, and Achim Zeileis2
Deborah Morgenstern et al.
  • 1Innsbruck, Faculty of Geo- and Atmospheric Sciences, Department of Atmospheric and Cryospheric Sciences, Austria (
  • 2Innsbruck, Faculty of Economics and Statistics, Department of Statistics, Austria (

Lightning in winter (December, January, February, DJF) is rare compared to lightning in summer (June, July, August, JJA) in central Europe. The conventional explanation attributes the scarcity of winter lightning to seasonally low values of variables that create favorable conditions in summer. Here we systematically examine whether different meteorological processes are at play in winter. We use cluster analysis and principal component analysis and find physically meaningful groups in ERA5 atmospheric reanalysis data and lightning data for northern Germany. Two sets of conditions emerged: Wind-field dominated and mass-field (temperature) dominated lightning conditions. Wind-field type lightning is characterized by increased wind speeds, high cloud shear, large dissipation of kinetic energy in the boundary layer, and moderate temperatures. Clouds are close to the ground and a relatively large fraction of the clouds is warmer than −10 degree Celsius. Mass-field type lightning is characterized by increased convective available potential energy (CAPE), the presence of convective inhibition (CIN), high temperatures, and accompanying large amounts of water vapor. Large amounts of cloud-physics variables related to charge separation such as ice particles and solid hydrometeors further differentiate both mass-field and wind-field lightning. Winter lightning is wind-field driven whereas in summer lightning is mostly mass-field driven with a small fraction of cases being wind-field driven. Consequently, typical weather situations for wind-field lightning in the study area in northern Germany are strong westerlies with embedded cyclones. For mass-field lightning, the area is typically on the anticyclonic side of a southwesterly jet.

Keywords: ERA5, cold-season thunderstorm, k-means clustering, winter lightning.

How to cite: Morgenstern, D., Stucke, I., Simon, T., Mayr, G. J., and Zeileis, A.: Differentiating lightning in winter and summer with characteristics of wind field and mass field, EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-824,, 2022.

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