Lightning: Different types, how to stay safe

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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) — Summer is only a few months away. Temperatures are getting warmer, and thunderstorms will become more common. So, let’s talk about lightning.

WHAT IS LIGHTNING?
Lightning is a natural discharge where different areas of the atmosphere equalize in charge. This causes insane quick energy known as lightning which can be extremely dangerous. Thunder follows lightning as thunder is created from a shockwave in lightning.

There are three common types of lightning: cloud to ground, cloud to cloud and cloud to air.

CLOUD TO GROUND LIGHTNING - NEGATIVE CHARGE
Cloud to ground lightning is the most dangerous. The ground is mainly consisted of positively charged particles while the bottom of violent storm clouds have negative charged particles. Opposites attract in this situation, and lightning goes after positively charged particles. The most common cloud to ground lightning strike is a negatively charged strike.

CLOUD TO GROUND LIGHTNING - POSITIVE CHARGE
There are situations where lightning finds negatively charged particles on the ground level and positive charges in the upper portion of a cloud overcome negative charges in the bottom of a cloud. This is when a positive lightning strike happens. Positive lightning strikes are not as common but are more dangerous. They have to travel farther distances which mean they also are stronger. They also pack louder thunder to follow!

CLOUD TO CLOUD LIGHTNING
Cloud to cloud lightning happens when a negatively charged cloud finds a positively charged cloud and opposites attract. These do not strike the ground obviously. They just travel from cloud to cloud.

CLOUD TO AIR LIGHTNING
Cloud to air lightning happens when negative charged air particles become attracted to positive charges within a cloud. These produce some loud boomers but do not hit the ground!

RISKS WITH LIGHTNING
It is estimated that there are about 50 deaths per year due to lightning in the United States. Risky activities involved with lightning include camping, sailing, swimming, and golfing. Lightning searches for the highest structures but that might be you if you are in an open area. Also, if lightning hits open water and you are in the open water, you will likely get electrocuted as a charge carries through water.

HOW TO STAY SAFE
The best thing you can do when you hear thunder is to go indoors. When thunder roars go indoors! Do not take shelter under a tree. If lightning hits the said tree, it could still electrocute you. Take shelter if you can and if you can’t, stay as low to the ground as possible until 30 minutes after you hear the last boom of thunder.


Cloud to ground lightning
Cloud to cloud lightning
Cloud to air lightning