Lots of Lightning in 2005's Major Hurricanes

Posted on January 17, 2006

We already know that the 2005 hurricane season shattered records but another mystery about the season was the amount of lightning is several of the year's major hurricanes. Rita, Katrina, and Emily all had lots of lightning according to a LiveScience.com article.
A hurricane's winds are mostly horizontal, not vertical. So the vertical churning that leads to lightning doesn't normally happen.

Lightning has been seen in hurricanes before. During a field campaign in 1998 called CAMEX-3, scientists detected lightning in the eye of hurricane Georges as it plowed over the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. The lightning probably was due to air forced upward�called "orographic forcing"�when the hurricane hit the mountains.

"Hurricanes are most likely to produce lightning when they're making landfall," says Blakeslee. But there were no mountains beneath the "electric hurricanes" of 2005�only flat water.

It's tempting to think that, because Emily, Rita and Katrina were all exceptionally powerful, their sheer violence somehow explains their lightning. But Blakeslee says that this explanation is too simple. "Other storms have been equally intense and did not produce much lightning," he says. "There must be something else at work."
While scientists try and solve this mystery they also have to prepare for whatever the 2006 hurricane season will bring. First the National Hurricane Center will have to wrap up 2005 -- they only just released the final data on Wilma's winds. We still have not read anything about the National Hurricane Center getting a much-needed boost in equipment and staff.
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