STORMWISE® Main Index

Striking Lightning Facts

Lightning is essentially a gigantic electrical spark that results from billions of volts of natural static electricity. Lightning is usually associated with thunderstorms and rain. Most meteorologists will agree that ice formation in clouds is a key factor for starting the "electric generator" that produces lightning. There are several theories as to how lightning is produced. It seems the best one so far [called the "Charge Reversal Concept"] requires that falling graupel (small ice pellets) become negatively charged while small supercooled cloud droplets that strike then bounce off the graupel become positively charged. Cloud temperature can affect the "charge sign" of the graupel. If the temperature is below -10C then the graupel takes a negative charge and the supercooled cloud droplets take a positive charge. The supercooled cloud droplets rise on updrafts to the top of the storm while the graupel pellets fall and melt in the lower regions of the storm.

Lightning Safety Facts from NOAA.

  • Each second there are 50 to 100 Cloud-to-Ground Lightning Strikes to the Earth world-wide.


  • Most lightning strikes average 2 to 3 miles long and carry a current of 10000 Amps at 100 million Volts.


  • A "Positive Giant" is a lightning strike that hits the ground up to 20 miles away from the storm.Because it seems to strike from a clear sky it is known as "A Bolt From The Blue". These"Positive Giant" flashes strike between the storm's top "anvil" and the Earth and carry several times the destructive energy of a "regular" lightning strike.

  • Thunder can only be heard about 12 miles away under good quiet outdoor conditions.


  • Daytime lightning is difficult or impossible to see under local sun and/or hazy conditions. Night-time "heat lightning" can be seen up to 100 miles away (depending on "seeing" conditions).
  • "Lightning Crawlers" or "Spider Lightning" can travel over 35 miles as it "crawls" across the bottoms or through squall line "frontal" clouds. This rare type of lightning is very beautiful as itzaps from "horizon-to-horizon". However it can turn deadly if it happens to strike the ground at the end of its super long path! {Lightning Crawlers from The Blue!}
  • Radar has detected Lightning "Crawlers" traveling at high altitudes (15000 ft to 20000 ft) as they zap from cloud-to-cloud.

  • Lightning "Crawlers" over seventy five (75) miles long have been observed by Radar!


  • The temperature of a typical lightning bolt is hotter than the surface of the Sun!
  • How big around is a typical lightning bolt? Answer: About the size of a Quarter to Half-Dollar! Lightning looks so much wider than it really is just because its light is so bright!
  • Lightning Strikes create powerful radio waves in the frequency range of 3 KHz (audio, VLF) through 10 MHz (shortwave radio). The VLF (3000 Hz to 30000 Hz) "lightning signatures" can travel around the world, allowing monitoring of world-wide lightning. The shortwave "lightning signatures can travel half-way around the Earth (the night-time side of the Earth). The best region to listen for distant shortwave lightning signatures is from 2 MHz through 7 MHz. After 3 AM local time you can listen to 3 MHz and hear the beautiful dispersion-ringing of the static as it bounces back-and-forth between the earth and ionosphere. It can at times sound like hundreds of tiny bells ringing at once!

  • Red Sprite lightning is a newly-discovered type of lightning that zaps between the 40 mile span between the tops of severe storm clouds to the lower ionosphere "D" layer. Red Sprite Lightning looks like a giant "blood-red"-colored jellyfish having light-blue tentacles. Red Sprite Lightning creates extremely powerful radio emissions from 1000 Hz through VHF.

  • This animation is Copyright © 2002

  • Red Sprite Lightning has been associated with very powerful "Atmospheric Gamma Ray Bursts" Nuclear Radiation from Lightning Strikes!
  • UHF Television Signals easily reflect the electrical path ways that lightning creates! Tune your hand-held scanner (or TV) to the sound carrier frequency of a 200 to 300 mile distant UHF TV station in the range of CH 14 to CH 21 (you should NOT be able to receive the station at all under normal weather conditions!) When lightning flashes, sometimes you will hear about 1/4 second of the TV station's sound! We discovered this during an experiment by tuning a hand-held scanner to 475.750 MHz which is the sound carrier for UHF TV Channel 14 (normally "dead"here). We heard TV "sound blips" instead of the UHF lightning signatures we were looking for! Do not experiment when lightning is nearby!

    Weather Books You Need To Read!

    If you want to learn more about lightning and other interesting weather facts and phenomena thenbuy these books from your local book store:

    "STORMS" by William R. Cotton, PH.D. Published by ASTeR Press. PO Box 466, Fort Collins, CO 80522. {1990 First Edition.}........ISBN:0-9625986-0-7.

    "Sky Watch East" and "Sky Watch West" by Richard A. Keen. Published by Fulcrum Publishing350 Indiana Street, Suite 350; Golden, CO 80401......{East}: ISBN:1-55591-091-2 ; {West}:ISBN: 1-55591-019-X.

    "Weather: Understanding the Forces of Nature" by Louise Quayle. Published by Cresent Books distributed by Crown Publishers, Inc. 225 Park Avenue South, New York, NY10003.....ISBN: 0517-67663-X.

    "This Blue Planet" by Janice Miller. Published by the Moody Bible Institute. [This book is a hard-cover 'rare find'! Obtain it while you still have time!].....ISBN:0-8024-8181-7.

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