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NASA Studies the World's Thunderstorms

WASHINGTON, Oct. 26 (UPI) -- NASA satellite data show the region east of the Andes Mountains in Argentina experiences the Earth's most intense thunderstorms.

The data from NASA's Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission, or TRMM, satellite, surprisingly also show some semi-arid regions can generate powerful storms, including the southern fringes of the Sahara, northern Australia, and parts of the Indian subcontinent. In contrast, rainy areas such as western Amazonia and Southeast Asia experience frequent storms, but few are severe.

Northern Pakistan, Bangladesh, and parts of Central Africa also experience intense thunderstorms.

"In addition to containing the only precipitation radar in space, TRMM's other instruments provide a powerful overlap of data that is extremely useful for studying storms," said lead study author Edward Zipser of the University of Utah.

The study also confirmed previous findings: The locations of the heaviest rainfall on Earth -- usually in tropical oceans and along certain mountain slopes -- rarely coincide with the regions of most intense storms. The data also show the strongest storms tend to occur over land, rather than over oceans.

The study appeared in the August issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

In this study, intense storms are defined by storm top height, storm top temperature, and lightning flash rate, all of which can be measured via satellite. Also, the satellite can only see relatively large thunderstorm clusters, so most supercell thunderstorms, which are on the order of 20-30 miles across, will not show up in the study.

You can read the paper here. Some of the structures the satellites can resolve are quite amazing.

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Posted by Jeff Frame | Permalink