A Unified Model of Cloud-to-Ground Lightning Stroke

Monday, 15 December 2014
Amitabh Nag, Vaisala Inc., Louisville, CO, United States and Vladimir A Rakov, Univ of FL-Elect & Comp Engr, Gainesville, FL, United States
The first stroke in a cloud-to-ground lightning discharge is thought to follow (or be initiated by) the preliminary breakdown process which often produces a train of relatively large microsecond-scale electric field pulses. This process is poorly understood and rarely modeled. Each lightning stroke is composed of a downward leader process and an upward return-stroke process, which are usually modeled separately. We present a unified engineering model for computing the electric field produced by a sequence of preliminary breakdown, stepped leader, and return stroke processes, serving to transport negative charge to ground. We assume that a negatively-charged channel extends downward in a stepped fashion through the relatively-high-field region between the main negative and lower positive charge centers and then through the relatively-low-field region below the lower positive charge center. A relatively-high-field region is also assumed to exist near ground. The preliminary breakdown pulse train is assumed to be generated when the negatively-charged channel interacts with the lower positive charge region. At each step, an equivalent current source is activated at the lower extremity of the channel, resulting in a step current wave that propagates upward along the channel. The leader deposits net negative charge onto the channel. Once the stepped leader attaches to ground (upward connecting leader is presently neglected), an upward-propagating return stroke is initiated, which neutralizes the charge deposited by the leader along the channel. We examine the effect of various model parameters, such as step length and current propagation speed, on model-predicted electric fields. We also compare the computed fields with pertinent measurements available in the literature.