Electric Discharge

The saying opposites attract is definitely true in some instances. Perhaps it’s the difference that sparks an instant attraction.  Sometimes the difference can create something exciting – like two diverse people beginning a new relationship and sometimes the difference produces a dangerous act of Mother Nature.

Lightning is quite simply the action of opposites attracting. According to The Franklin Institute, when positively charged energy and negatively charged energy are near each other, an electric discharge of energy travels between the opposites and produces lightning.

The charges that are present in a thunderstorm cloud are from water and ice particles moving and interacting. When the build-up of a charge is too great, the oppositely charged particles attract and discharge their energy in the form of a lightning bolt. Lightning bolts can reach a temperature approaching 40,000 degrees Fahrenheit in a split second (7 times hotter than the surface of the Sun).

There are different forms of lightning strikes:

Photo Courtesy Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Photo Courtesy Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

  1. Cloud-to-ground
    These bolts are the most familiar and most dangerous. Cloud-to-ground lightning bolts strike the highest object, like the top of a tall building or tree.
  2. Positive (also known as Sprites)
    Positive bolts are less common and often indicate storms that are more likely to turn into tornadoes.
  3. Intracloud
    These are strikes between positive and negative areas within the same cloud. Rather than seeing a bolt in the sky, intracloud strikes appear as a flash. Intracloud strikes are the most common.
  4. Intercloud
    This strike passes through clean air and provides a clear bolt of light.

It is amazing how something so simple such as opposites attracting can explain the most dangerous and frequently encountered weather hazard that most people experience each year.


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