Leader formation during the Initial Breakdown stage of a lightning flash

Monday, 15 December 2014
Maribeth Stolzenburg1, Thomas C Marshall2, Sumedhe Karunarathne1, Nadeeka Karunarathna1 and Richard E Orville3, (1)University of Mississippi Main Campus, University, MS, United States, (2)Univ Mississippi, University, MS, United States, (3)Texas A & M Univ, College Station, TX, United States
This study presents luminosity and leader propagation during the initial breakdown (IB) stage of a cloud-to-ground flash, beginning at 6.06 km altitude and 31.86 ms before the return stroke. High-speed video (50,000 frames per s) and time-correlated electric field change data show multiple branch ends advance concurrently in the first 6 ms of the flash; each branch begins with IB pulses and propagates first via bursts as an initial leader. Burst luminosity (brightest pixel intensity) is directly related to the IB pulse amplitude. Some initial leader branches transition to advancing as stepped leaders after a few milliseconds. Each initial leader branch end makes the transition to a stepped leader branch end at a slightly different time, resulting in a complex E-change waveform having relatively narrow step-type pulses during the IB stage and no apparent Intermediate stage prior to the Leader stage. There is no visible evidence of an upward propagating leader end prior to the RS, nor of any light above the earliest visible IB luminosity prior to or during the RS. In the RS, the topmost visible portion of the channel that developed as an initial leader (above 5.1 km) appears different (dimmer and with slower speed) from the channel below, indicating it is less conductive. Radar and time-of-arrival lightning source data indicate that the IB luminosity visible to the camera comes from about 6 km deep inside the thundercloud echo. The 1276-m long initial leader transitions to a stepped leader near 4.9 km and the altitude of the radar bright band.