Severe Weather Extra: Lightning formation

Weather Specials

Heat lightning has nothing to do with heat

(WYTV) – The air is a poor conductor of electricity, so a large amount of energy is required to cause a lightning strike.

Thunder is the sound we hear after a lightning strike. It happens when the air rapidly expands when the lightning channel heats the air.

Lightning is as hot as the surface of the sun at 50,000°. This rapid heating of the air causes a sound wave to go out that we hear as a thunder rumble.

Heat lightning has nothing to do with heat. Have you ever seen a flash of lightning but did not hear it? That’s because the sound wave dies out as it travels over distance. Light, as we know, is visible as far as the eye can see.

Lightning occurs because of charge separation in the cloud. Ice pellets have a hard shell, with liquid water inside. They have different charges.

When the ice pellets hit into each other, they shatter and the lighter ice pieces will be carried aloft, while the liquid center falls to the base of the cloud. This gives us our charge separation.

Opposites attract, so often there are cloud-to-cloud strikes from the base to the top of the cloud.

But an opposite charge develops at the surface and rises up the highest objects, attracted to the opposite charge in the cloud. When the two connect, we have a closed channel for the lightning bolt to discharge all of the energy.

The most dangerous and deadly strikes come from the top of the cloud, in the anvil.

Lightning strikes can occur miles from the parent cloud. So it may still be blue skies, with a storm off in the distance, and a lightning strike can occur.

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