Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in Weather and Forecasting 20 (2005), 517 - 530.


During 9–11 November 1998 and 9–10 March 2002, two similar convective lines moved across the central and eastern United States. Both convective lines initiated over the southern plains along strong surface-based cold fronts in moderately unstable environments. Both lines were initially associated with cloud-to-ground (CG) lightning, as detected by the National Lightning Detection Network, and both events met the criteria to be classified as derechos, producing swaths of widespread damaging wind. After moving into areas of marginal, if any, instability over the upper Midwest, CG lightning production ceased or nearly ceased, although the damaging winds continued. The 9 March 2002 line experienced a second phase of frequent CG lightning farther east over the mid-Atlantic states. Analysis of these two events shows that the production of CG lightning was sensitive to the occurrence and vertical distribution of instability. Periods with frequent CG lightning were associated with sufficient instability within the lower mixed-phase region of the cloud (i.e., the temperature range approximately between -10° and -20°C), a lifting condensation level warmer than -10°C, and an equilibrium level colder than -20°C. Periods with little or no CG lightning possessed limited, if any, instability in the lower mixed-phase region. The current Storm Prediction Center guidelines for forecasting these convective lines are presented.