Evolution of Global Lightning in the Transition From Cold to Warm Phase Preceding Two Super El Niño Events

E. Williams, T. Bozóki*, G. Sátori, C. Price, P. Steinbach, A. Guha, Y. Liu, C. D. Beggan, M. Neska, R. Boldi, M. Atkinson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Multistation observations of Schumann resonance (SR) intensity document common behavior in the evolution of continental-scale lightning activity in two super El Niño events, occurring in 1997/98 and 2015/16. The vertical electric field component of SR at Nagycenk, Hungary and the two horizontal magnetic field components in Rhode Island, USA in 1997, and in 2014–2015, the two horizontal magnetic field components at Hornsund, Svalbard and Eskdalemuir, United Kingdom as well as in Boulder Creek, California and Alberta, Canada exhibit considerable increases in SR intensity from some tens of percent up to a few hundred percents in the transition months preceding the two super El Niño events. The UT time distribution of anomalies in SR intensity indicates that in 1997 the lightning activity increases mainly in Southeast Asia, the Maritime Continent and India, i.e. the Asian chimney region. On the other hand, a global response in lightning is indicated by the anomalies in SR intensity in 2014 and 2015. SR-based results are strengthened by comparison to independent lightning observations from the Optical Transient Detector and the World Wide Lightning Location Network, which also exhibit increased lightning activity in the transition months. The increased lightning is attributable to increased instability due to thermodynamic disequilibrium between the surface and the midtroposphere during the transition. The main conclusion is that variations in SR intensity may act as a precursor for the occurrence and magnitude of these extreme climate events, and in keeping with earlier findings, as a precursor to maxima in global surface air temperature.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2020JD033526
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres
Issue number3
StatePublished - 16 Feb 2021


  • ENSO
  • Earth-ionosphere cavity
  • Schumann resonance
  • extremely low frequency
  • global lightning activity
  • lightning


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