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Applying Modern Meteorological Tools to the Study of Ball Lightning (Kugelblitz)
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  • Richard Sonnenfeld,
  • Karl Stephan,
  • Alexander Keul,
  • Isaac Edelman,
  • Sergio Jimenez
Richard Sonnenfeld
New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

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Karl Stephan
Texas State University, San Marcos
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Alexander Keul
University of Salzburg
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Isaac Edelman
New Mexico Tech Physics Department
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Sergio Jimenez
Texas State University San Marcos
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Rakov and Uman pointed out (Lightning: Physics and Effects, 2003) that despite 5000 published reports of ball lightning (BL) and a scientific literature comparable in volume to the literature on conventional lightning, we still have no idea of what mechanisms create or power BL. Lightning characterization technology advances can and should be applied to BL studies. Keul and Diendorfer (2018) have correlated BL reports with European lightning-detection network data, but no such attempt has been made for US BL reports up to now. Using 31 BL reports from a now-defunct US website, we have attempted correlations with National Lightning Detection Network (NLDN) and radar data archived at the National Climactic Data Center. Of the 31 reports, 5 objects were indoors and 25 were reported to coincide with thunderstorms. Time information accurate to 30 minutes (1 sigma) and location information accurate within one to ten km was available from nine of the reports, and for these we obtained both NLDN and composite radar data covering the time frames indicated by the reports. For three of the nine reports, we found NLDN located strikes plausibly within the distance and time frames of the observer reports – thus qualifying as nearby (possibly causal) lightning. However, for the report for which the location of the ball was known within meters, the nearest lightning was 2.3 km away. 23 reports only associate BL with a storm within 25 km. Should it continue to hold in the face of more evidence, the relative lack of correlation of BL and nearby lightning suggests that the production of BL is associated more with static or changing electric fields in the vicinity of thunderstorms, than with the lightning plasma channel itself. While these results by themselves are limited, we are optimistic that one can learn more about the link between natural and ball lightning by fusing more precise eyewitness reports with lightning location and other archival meteorological data. To this end, we have launched a website to guide citizen scientists in future ball lightning reports. The site may be reached via https://tinyurl.com/BLReport.