Thunderstorms are convective systems characterised by the occurrence of lightning. Lightning and thunderstorm activity has been increasingly studied in recent years in relation to the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and various other large-scale modes of atmospheric and oceanic variability. Large-scale modes of variability can sometimes be predictable several months in advance, suggesting potential for seasonal forecasting of lightning and thunderstorm activity in various regions throughout the world. To investigate this possibility, seasonal lightning activity in the world's tropical and temperate regions is examined here in relation to numerous different large-scale modes of variability. Of the seven modes of variability examined, ENSO has the strongest relationship with lightning activity during each individual season, with relatively little relationship for the other modes of variability. A measure of ENSO variability (the NINO3.4 index) is significantly correlated to local lightning activity at 53% of locations for one or more seasons throughout the year. Variations in atmospheric parameters commonly associated with thunderstorm activity are found to provide a plausible physical explanation for the variations in lightning activity associated with ENSO. It is demonstrated that there is potential for accurately predicting lightning and thunderstorm activity several months in advance in various regions throughout the world.
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