Wednesday, May 28, 2014

I Love Lightning!


I was selected to participate in a three week programming course sponsored by NASA at the University of Virginia. The workshop is called ISSCENS, an Intensive Summer School in Computing for Environmental Science. For eight hours a day we learn programming skills and complete tasks using Python, Fortran, Unix, and MPI.

The greenery in Virginia is endless. When I first arrived I was quickly reminded that I live in a desert (which is beautiful in its own way.) Charlottesville, Virginia had some light rain when I walked out of class this evening. Some of my classmates and I were almost back to the dorms when the rain began to downpour! If we had shampoo we might have washed out hair. Instead, we found a covered part of the sidewalk and we decided to wait the storm out. As weather geeks, someone had a radar app and we made a short forecast for the duration of the rain. We decided to stay under a covered sidewalk and wait six minutes before it would pass. Sure enough, the rain let up and we walked the rest of the way in a light drizzle. When I swiped the access card to the building I didn't think much about the flash of light I saw out of the corner of my eye, but the loud *CRACK* caught me by surprise as all the muscles in my body suddenly became tense. The lightning still scares me, but it's fun to watch. You don't have to be a meteorologist to appreciate a good lightning storm.

Vaisala's lightning detection network registered a lot of strikes in Virginia today:
Source: lightningstorm.com
There are no in-town weather stations that report to MesoWest, but some of the surrounding stations show up to an inch of rain in the last 24 hours. (I'd say in-town Charlottesville was on the 0.32 inches side of the spectrum).
Source: MesoWest.utah.edu
It looks like tomorrow will be wet again, but the rain will probably not be accompanied with as much lightning. The reason for this is that the CAPE decreases as the weekend approaches. CAPE stands for "convective available potential energy." It is basically a measure of the buoyancy of the air. For air that is more buoyant it will have more CAPE which indicates it will likely rise quickly and often create thunderstorms. If there is low CAPE thunderstorms are harder to develop.

Below is the CAPE on Wednesday in the afternoon and the forecasted CAPE on Thursday afternoon:
Source: weather.utah.edu
Source: weather.utah.edu

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