You are here

Lightning - What's it all about....

Lightning is an electric current within a thundercloud in the sky. Many small bits of ice bump into one another as they move around in the air and all of these collisions create an electrical charge, which then causes the clouds to fill up with these electrical charges, the positive charges form at the top of the cloud and the negative at the bottom, and seeing as opposites attract it causes a positive charge to build up on the ground beneath the cloud. The grounds electrical charge concentrates around anything that sticks up, like trees, people, etc, and the charge coming up from these points eventually connects with a charge reaching down from the clouds and then voila, lightning strikes!

Have you ever rubbed your feet across carpet and then touched a metal door handle? If so, then you know that you can get shocked, well lightning works in the same way.
A major question that is commonly asked:
"Is it possible to have thunder without lightning?"

No, it is not possible to have thunder without lightning. Thunder is a direct result of lightning. However, it IS possible that you might see lightning and not hear the thunder because it was too far away. Sometimes this is called “heat lightning” because it occurs most often in the summer.
How hot is lightning?
Lightning is approximately 29,980C (54,000 degrees Fahrenheit). That is six times hotter than the surface of the sun.

Lightning can appear to be many colours - depending on what the light travels through to get to your eyes.. in snowstorms, where it is rare, pink and green lightning has been described.

Cloud flash lightning is lightning that occurs inside a cloud which travels from one part of a cloud to another or from cloud to the air.
Can you tell how far away a storm is?

A good rule of thumb to tell how far away a storm is to count the seconds between seeing a lightning strike and hearing the thunder from it. Divide this number by three to tell approximately how many kilometres away the storm is.
Here are a few questions answered that describe types of lightning.
What is cloud-to-ground lightning?
All lightning is dangerous, but cloud-to-ground lightning is the most dangerous type of lightning. Most cloud-to-ground lightning strikes come from the negatively charged bottom of the cloud traveling to the positively charged ground below. Cloud-to-ground lightning bolts strike the tall objects, like trees and buildings. These lightning strikes can cause fire and property damage. If you're the tallest object, then lighting can strike you. Lightning is the second weather related killer.
What is intracloud lightning?
Intracloud lightning is the most common type of lightning. This occurs when there are both positive and negative charges within the same cloud. Usually, the process takes place within the cloud and looks like a bright flash of light which flickers.
What is forked lightning?
Forked lighting appears as jagged lines of light. They can have several branches. Forked lightning can be seen shooting from the clouds to the ground, from one cloud to another cloud, or from a cloud out into the air. This lightning can strike up to 10 miles away from a thunderstorm.
What is sheet lightning?
Sheet lightning appears as flashes of light that seem to light up or illuminate entire clouds.
What is intercloud lightning?
Intercloud lightning is less common. It's when a lightning strike occurs when there are positive and negative charges within different clouds and the strike travels in the air between them.
What is heat lightning?
Heat lightning is a term used to describe lightning flashes that are too far away from you to hear the thunder. The reason that it is called heat lightning is that it appears most often on a hot summer day when the sky is clear overhead.
What is high-altitude lightning?
High-altitude lightning has been given other names such as "red sprites," "green elves," and "blue jets." This form of lightning appears as brightly colored flashes, high above thunderstorms. You can't see these types of lightning from the ground.
What is ribbon lightning?
Ribbon lightning is when a bolt of lightning separates due to wind and appears as parallel lightning streaks.

What is chain or bead lightning?
Chain or bead lightning is when a lightning bolt is broken into dotted lines while fading.
What is ball lightning?
Ball lightning is a rare form of lightning. It usually appears as a reddish, luminous ball, but can come in any color. Ball lightning is usually spherical in shape and about one foot in diameter. Hissing noises originate from such balls and they sometimes make a loud noise when they explode.
What is anvil lightning?
Anvil lightning is a type of lightning referred to as "the bolt from the blue" because it often appears suddenly from a seemingly cloudless sky. A bolt at the top of a thunderstorm arcs away from the main cloud and strikes the ground where the skies above often appear clear.

If outdoors:

Keep an eye at the sky. Look for darkening skies, flashes of lightning, or increasing winds. Lightning often proceeds rain, so don’t wait for the rain to begin. If you hear the sound of thunder, go to a safe place immediately. The best place to go is a sturdy building or a car, but make sure the windows in the car are shut. Avoid sheds, picnic areas, baseball dugouts and bleachers. If there is no shelter around you, stay away from trees. Crouch down in the open area, keeping twice as far away from a tree as far as it is tall. Put your feet together and place your hands over your ears to minimize hearing damage from thunder. If you’re with a group of people stay about 15 feet from each other. Stay out of water, because it’s a great conductor of electricity. Swimming, wading, snorkeling and scuba diving are not safe. Also, don’t stand in puddles and avoid metal. Stay away from clotheslines, fences, and drop your backpacks because they often have metal on them. If you’re playing an outdoor activity, wait at least 30 minutes after the last observed lightning strike or thunder.
If indoors:

Avoid water. It’s a great conductor of electricity, so do not take a shower, wash your hands, wash dishes or do laundry. Do not use a corded telephone. Lightning may strike exterior phone lines. Do not use electric equipment like computers and appliances during a storm. Stay away from windows and doors and stay off porches.
IF SOMEONE IS STRUCK BY LIGHTNING: Call for help. Call 000 and/or send for help immediately. The injured person does not carry an electrical charge, so it is okay to touch them.