Atmosphere And Weather

An Overview on Types of Lightning

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"An Overview on Types of Lightning"
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Forget Zeus and Thor.  We know that lightning is not a weapon forged at Mount Olympus or a sound from the hammer Mjolnir. Lightning is a natural phenomenon which has inspired myths and fascinated scientists.  Today, lightning is studied as a potential energy source and result of severe weather conditions.  What scientists have discovered through their research is that there are many types of lightning.

Lightning- The Basics

Scientists define lightning as an atmospheric discharge of electricity.  Most people witness lightning as part of a thunderstorm.  However, lightning has been known to be formed during wildfires, rocket launches and even volcanic eruptions.

Lightning can be positive or negative. It can vary in color from white to blue to red.  It can be impacted by humidity, temperature, water vapor, wind conditions and even soil content.

Lightning is dangerous and occurs across the world at least 44 times per second. It fascinated great minds, such as Benjamin Franklin and Nikola Tesla,  and has continued to be a mystery to modern science.

Types of Lightning

There are various typesnof lightning and they are classed based on points of origin, color or unique characteristics.  There are forms that are commonly seen and others which are rarely of ever recorded. The different types of lightning include:

Cloud to Ground

People watching the flashes of lightning during a thunderstorm are more likely to see cloud to ground lightning.  This type is the second most common, but best known type of lightning.  It can appear to break up in sections, appear streaming, forked or even branching.


This is the most common form of lightning and consists of flashes of lighting within the same cloud.  It can be seen at great distances and is sometimes referred to as “heat lightning.”


While intracloud lightning occurs when differently charged particles interact within one cloud, intercloud lightning occurs when the differently charges particles are in separate clouds. It is also referred to as “heat lightning.”

Ground to Cloud

This type lightning is rare, but involves surface charges interacting with cumulonimbus clouds.  A negative charged ion low to the ground interacts with positive ions in clouds. It’s the reverse of the cloud to ground form of lightning. 

Dry Lightning

While most lightning is associated with thunderstorms, lightning can still occur in cloudless or nearly cloudless skies.  In cases of volcanic eruptions and wildfires, lightning can occur.  Lightning that results from convention forces related to these phenomenon is referred to as dry lightning.

Ball Lightning

While there are few observations of this type of lightning, there are historical accounts of ball lightning.  This form of lightning is described as  a glowing spherical lightning which may result when lightning strikes silicon.


There is lightning that occurs in the upper atmosphere, which is more powerful and more deadly that lightning customarily seen. This lightning can disable airplanes, have streams miles long and can travel at incredible speeds.  Common classes of megalightning include blue jets, sprites and elves. These are named for their colors, rarity and varying shapes.

Lightning occurs all over the world and in varying environments.  While some may consider it a natural light show as fascinating as the Aurora Borealis, lightning is dangerous as it is beautiful. In the future, as Tesla had once predicted, lightning could be an endless energy source.  But, today, how lightning forms and the various states are still a mystery.   

More about this author: Ramona Taylor

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