Lightning Meteorology Group

Dr. Eric Bruning, Professor

Texas Tech University / Atmospheric Science Group

Two Research Assistantships

1. Analysis of the first-ever in-situ measurements of electrification and lightning in lake effect snow storms with polarimetric radar, a lightning mapping array, and balloon-borne electric field meters. (NSF-funded, with SUNY-Oswego, NOAA/NSSL, Georgia Tech, UAH/NASA MSFC)

2. Assessment of lightning, radar polarimetry, and precipitation microphysics in the thunderstorm convective lifecycle, using TRACER/ESCAPE field campaign data (especially using 10s-updating research radar scans) and counterpart modeling studies. (DOE/NSF-funded, with Columbia U. and NASA GSFC).

Opportunities for contributions across projects, including those listed below, and participation in field work are encouraged.

What does the group do?

Lightning meteorology refers to the relationship of storm electrification and lightning to the thermodynamics, microphysics, kinematics, and dynamics of thunderstorms. We seek relationships of thunderstorm electricity to storm processes that are more than a statistical, empirical best fit. The laws of physics describe and predict the dynamics of the physical coupling of thunderstorm electricity to kinematic and thermodynamic processes that operate in the atmosphere. Study of the problem from this perspective is a harder road, but one that has paid off before in the fruitful post-WW II era in which meteorology was placed on a firm physical-dynamical basis, and ultimately led to the enormous improvement in weather forecasts over the last hundred years. Modern lightning observations position us to make many of the same advances in the study of lightning and storm electricity today.

The physics in question encompass the the conditions for microscale electrification, the distribution of electrical energy, and the means by which it is dissipated:

  1. Electrification's dependence on cloud microphysical conditions, including the impact of environmental thermodynamics and entrainment
  2. The distribution of flash sizes and electrical energy, and the role of turbulent kinematic trajectories in organizing the texture of charge
  3. Lightning physics during the discharge process, including processes by which optical and RF emission take place during leader steps and current flows

The group is engaged in a variety of observational studies of lightning that facilitate knowledge transfer to forecasters in the operational use of lightning data, which are growing with the launch of the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) on GOES-16, -17, -18, and future satellites. The group operates the VHF-band West Texas Lightning Mapping Array, which facilitates detailed observational studies of lightning. Lightning data are typically synthesized with weather radar data to provide meteorological context. There is promise in using lightning flash size information, in combination with flash rate, to detect the minute-by-minute fluctuations of thunderstorm updrafts in the upper part of the cloud. Applying these ideas to GLM data and continuing to use LMA data to understand how the 3D structure of lightning relates to turbulent eddies inside thunderstorms is the focus of several current and future field projects.

Practically, the group works extensively in the Python programming language and open-source scientific computing ecosystem that has grown up around it, and every other summer attends the SciPy conference.

Group Members

Dr. Eric Bruning, Professor

Curriculum Vitae

Eric received his B.S. and Ph.D. (2008) from the University of Oklahoma while a research assistant at the National Severe Storms Laboratory. From 2008-2010, he worked as a Research Associate at the University of Maryland's Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites in the Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center with the GOES-R Geostationary Lightning Mapper program. He joined the Atmospheric Science faculty at Texas Tech in Fall 2010, where he is currently a Full Professor.

Having watched more of the Weather Channel than the average high schooler, he realized that meteorology was a great fit for his love of math, physics, maps, and computers. As a freshman meteorology major, he got into lightning as a byproduct of taking the first research opportunity he was offered, which exposed him to atmospheric ballooning and the first ever lightning mapping data collected in a major field project. He loves the fractal detail of lightning channels, and the process of lining up 3D lightning datasets with other balloon and radar observations of thunderstorms.

Dr. Bruning received an NSF CAREER award in 2014 to relate the distribution of lightning flash sizes and lightning initiation to the deformation of charge structures by turbulence in thunderstorms, and worked with the painter Tina Fuentes to develop a public art exhibit depicting this relationship. Since 2018 he has developed and supported the data processing method used to create operational displays of GLM data in the US NWS, resulting in ongoing service on the similar EUMETSAT Meteosat Third Generation Lightning Imager mission advisory group. In 2018 he was awarded the 2018 American Geophysical Union Atmospheric and Space Electricity Section Early Career Award. He currently serves as Secretary of the AGU ASE Section.

Kelcy Brunner, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Research Associate (2021-)

Observational analyses of ground- and space-based lightning, lightning instrumentation, modeling of optical scattering in thunderstorms

Bruno Medina, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Research Associate (2023-)

Lightning's relation to the mesoscale environment, radar-inferred kinematics and microphysics.

Stephanie Weiss, M.S., Research Staff

GLM calibration and validation; West Texas LMA data stewardship

Jessica Souza, Research Assistant and Ph.D. student

Fundamentals of thunderstorm ice microphysics and electrification (M.S. 2019–2020, Ph.D. 2021-)

David Singewald, Research Assistant and M.S. student

Cross-sensor validation of operational, research, and photographic lightning datasets (2022-)

Matthew Miller, Research Assistant and M.S. student

Social science in NWS operations (with Prof. Jen Henderson); lightning climatology from LMA and GLM (2022-)

Sam Gardner, Research Assistant and M.S. student

Lightning and radar polarimetry in various field campaigns (2023-)

Matt Bednar, Research Assistant and M.S. student

Lightning and radar polarimetry in various field campaigns (2023-)

Cooper Gray, Research Assistant and B.S. student, TTU class of 2024

Studies of lightning with polarimetric phased array radar (2023-)

Shravani Koli, Research Assistant and B.S. student, TTU class of 2026

Studies of lightning with polarimetric phased array radar (2023-)

Previous Ph.D. graduates

Dr. Vicente Salinas, Dr. Vanna Chmielewski

Previous M.S. graduates

David PeQueen, David Newbern, Cameron Nixon, Kelley Murphy, Candace Wood, Matthew Brothers, Samantha Berkseth, Jennifer Daniel, Phillip Ware, Camaron Plourde, Natalie Gusack