Ask Storm Team: How does lightning form?

Weather

Today’s Ask Storm Team 11 question is “How does lightning form?”

Updrafts in thunderstorms help lift positive ions from near the surface to higher levels of the cloud.

Negative ions build in the mid-levels due to the presence of graupel and ice crystals. 

This creates a dipole arrangement: positive, negative, positive.

This build of up static electricity continues until the updraft weakens or lightning strikes.

Lightning will strike when the electric field exceeds the breakdown voltage. In other words, the atmosphere needs to get rid of excess electricity.

A stepped leader will ionize a column of air below it. An upward and downward moving leader will meet and lightning strikes!

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