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What Causes Lightning

Lightning is an electric current that passes between two clouds, within a single cloud itself, and between the cloud and earth. Lightning strikes are common during thunderstorms. They can travel large distances and follow a zig-zag path.

How Does Lightning Form

How Does Lightning Form

There is a lot of motion within a cloud made up of water vapor. The upper layers of the cloud are in contact with the cold atmosphere. This causes the water vapor to condense into small ice particles. However, the lower layers adjacent to the warmer parts of the atmosphere continue to have water vapor. The ice and water vapor collide with each other in the cloud, creating static electrical charges due to the friction. The lighter positive charges collect at the top of the cloud while the heavier negative charges move to the bottom. When the charges are high, the opposite poles of the cloud act like a battery, and a bolt of lightning occurs between the two ends due to the attraction between the opposite charges.

What Creates the Bright Light in the Clouds during Lightning

The atmosphere usually acts as an insulator and doesn’t allow the lightning to flow anywhere else except within the cloud. This limits the electric charges, along with the light produced by them, within the boundaries of the cloud, illuminating the entire cloud.

How Does Lightning Work to Strike the Earth

When the charges developed in the cloud are strong enough, they may break the insulating property of the atmosphere and make electric current flow down to the earth that has a positive charge, which travels back to the sky as a brighter spark. Usually, the positive charge on the ground develops on tall structures such as buildings, trees, electricity poles, etc. The downward and upward flows of electric current are cumulatively seen as lightning.

What Makes the Loud Sound Along With Lightning

A high temperature (53,540 degrees Fahrenheit, about six times the temperature of the sun) is produced by a single bolt of lightning. The air through which the spark passes becomes excessively heated and expands rapidly producing a loud sound that we hear as thunder.

Lightning may cause death or severe injury if it strikes a person. Hence, it is important to take adequate safety precautions during lightning. Stay away from electrical appliances, open doors and windows, water bodies, open fields and remain indoors.

Article was last reviewed on Friday, October 5, 2018

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