Climate analysis of lightning launch commit criteria for Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station
Muller, Eric C.
Jordan, Mary S.
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We have conducted climate analyses of natural lightning activity at Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (KSC/CCAFS). These analyses were conducted to improve forecasts of lightning related hazards for, and the planning of, space vehicle launches at KSC/CCAFS. If a space vehicle is hit by lightning during launch, the vehicle and payload may sustain irreparable damage. Lightning-based rules for conducting launch and vehicle preparation activities have been developed by launch managers at KSC/CCAFS. In this research, we investigated one aspect of these--the natural lightning launch commit criteria. Our goal was to improve the scientific basis for skillful forecasting of the probability of lightning hazards. Such forecasts have the potential to reduce lightning related risks to personnel and equipment, and to save millions of dollars in preparation and launch costs. Using cloud-to-ground lightning strike data from the National Lightning Detection Network during January 1989 through December 2008, we identified events in which the KSC/CCAFS natural lightning criteria for launches were violated--that is, when excessive lightning activity prevented or would have prevented launches from occurring. Based on these events, we developed daily and multi-day probabilities of lightning violations. We also developed and applied an objective statistical method for determining the seasonality of lightning and for identifying six lightning violation seasons through the course of the calendar year. These seasons were used as the basis for characterizing the temporal and spatial patterns associated with climate scale variations in lightning at KSC/CCAFS. We used atmospheric reanalysis data to analyze the physical processes that lead to interannual variability in: (a) lightning violations in each season; and (b) the start and end dates of the main lightning season. These analyses led to the identification of regional and global scale processes that tend to alter the probability of lightning violations, including: (1) shifts in the strength, latitude, and zonal extent of the Bermuda High; (2) alterations of regional scale divergence and convection, and (3) teleconnections to global scale climate variations. Several of these processes tend to be important in all or most of the six lightning violation seasons. The results of this study help form the foundation for improvements in the analysis and forecasting of natural lightning violations, and in the planning of launches at KSC/CCAFS.
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