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Journal of Climate

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Lightning -- West (U.S.) -- Observations, Meteorology -- West (U.S.), Lightning -- West (U.S.) -- Longitudinal studies, Atmospheric science, Climatology -- West (U.S.)


A 30-yr climatology of lightning days and associated synoptic meteorological patterns are characterized across the interior western United States (WUS). Locally centered composite analyses show preferred synoptic meteorological patterns with positive 500-hPa geopotential height anomalies located to the northeast and negative sea level pressure anomalies to the northwest and collocated with local lightning days. Variations in preferred patterns for local lightning days are seen across the interior WUS. Areas not commonly affected by the North American monsoon system including the western Great Basin and northern Rocky Mountains show higher-amplitude anomalies of geopotential height, moisture, and midtropospheric instability patterns suggesting the importance of episodic midlatitude dynamics to lightning days in such locations. By contrast, locations closer to the core of the North American monsoon show weaker anomalies, likely reflecting the prevalence of favorable mesoscale dynamics key to lightning production during warm-season months in locations in the interior Southwest. Meteorological patterns for select locations are explored in more detail and two case studies of notably active lightning events are presented. Results from this observational analysis provide a foundation for evaluating meteorological conditions on lightning days in climate model simulations for the interior WUS.


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