All Types Of Lightning
Are Dangerous!

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Cumulonimbus cloud cells, commonly known as thunderstorms, generate three main types of lightning at mature stage.

  • Cloud-to-ground
  • Cloud-to-cloud
  • In-cloud

Lightning has also been observed in extremely intense forest fires, heavy snowstorms generated by cumulonimbus cells imbedded in the overcast and even volcanic eruptions!

Lightning can take many forms. The most common are...

  • a jagged line,
  • forked lightning (more on this form below),
  • ball lightning.

What Is Lightning?

It is the electrostatic discharge that occurs between a negatively charged mature cumulonimbus cell and any object that has become relatively positive. (For more on thunderstorms, see this page).

When the other object is a neighboring cumulonimbus, the discharge is cloud-to-cloud but may appear as in-cloud when the thunderstorm cells are imbedded close together within the overcast.

Generally, the electrostatic discharge will occur between the negatively charged cumulonimbus cell and positively charged (electron starved) objects on the ground such as

  • buildings,
  • tall trees,
  • or even you ... if you happen to be the tallest positively charged "object" available!

When many objects are hit at the same time, lightning will appear "forked".

How Dangerous Is Lightning?

One particularly dangerous type of lightning may occur when the cirrus anvil, topping a thunderstorm, becomes highly positively charged!

Under such circumstances, lightning can reach over up to eight or ten kilometers from the cell! So, take cover (... not under a tree!) as soon as you hear distant thunder, because...

  • you never know how fast and in which direction the thunderstorm is moving,

  • nor do you know anything about its intensity.

Why take cover? Because a single lightning bolt (lightning strike or spark) can have up to 100 million volts of electrical energy ... and its temperature can be as much as 27,000 °C (aprox. 50,000 °F)!

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