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by Monty Webb

Posted on June 30, 2010 at 8:55 AM


Earlier this week I received an email from a young viewer and I thought it would make a great weather blog...


Dear Weatherman

How is lightning made in the sky?
Audrey Browning, Age 8
Audrey here's your answer and thanks for writing!
Have you ever gotten a shock by shuffling across a carpet and then touching something made of metal? Then you've experienced the same process that makes lightning.
Lightning is formed in Cumulonimbus Clouds (thunderstorms). The warm moist air that feeds the thunderstorm raises high in
to the atmosphere and cools inside the cumulonimbus cloud forming water droplets and ice.  Lightning is a flow on electricity from cloud to cloud and cloud to ground.  The electricity is generated when the ice and water particles move around rapidly and bump into each other inside the clouds. As the particles move they become oppositely charged with the positively charged particles at the top of the clouds and the negatively charged particles at the base of the clouds. Since opposites attract each other, that causes a positive charge to build up on the ground beneath the cloud. The ground's electrical charge concentrates around anything that sticks up, such as mountains, lone trees, people, or even blades of grass. The charge streaming up from these points eventually connects with a charge reaching down from the clouds, and ZAP… lightning strikes. This flow of electricity can produce cloud to ground, cloud to cloud and cloud to air lightning bolts.
A flash of lightning last only a fraction of a second, but produces a lot of electrical energy and can be five times hotter than the surface of the sun (50,0000 F). The heat of the lightning causes a rapid expansion of the air surrounding the lightning bolt and make the loud boom we call thunder.
(graphic: NOAA)
For more information about lightning and lightning safety check out these websites...