All about Lightning


 What is Lightning?

Lightning is a giant spark of electricity in the atmosphere between clouds, the air, or the ground. In the early stages of development, air acts as an insulator between the positive and negative charges in the cloud and between the cloud and the ground. When the opposite charges builds up enough, this insulating capacity of the air breaks down and there is a rapid discharge of electricity that we know as lightning. The flash of lightning temporarily equalizes the charged regions in the atmosphere until the opposite charges build up again.

The photo above was taken by me in 2017 in Belleville, Illinois when I was out shopping.


What causes Lightning?

The buildup of these charges are thought to be caused by ice crystals colliding into each other creating an electrical charge w/in the cloud.  Positive and negative charges are separated (positive in the top of the cloud and negative in the bottom of the cloud).  Additionally, since opposites attract, it causes additional positive charges to build up on the surface of the earth (trees, buildings, ground, etc.)  Once there is a strong enough buildup of these charges, an electrical discharge is created.  This is the lightning bolt you see…connecting from negative charged electrons to positive charged electrons.  This continues throughout the thunderstorm life until there is no more build up of charges.


How hot is Lightning?

Lightning is estimated to be approximately 53,540 degrees Fahrenheit (about 5 times hotter than the surface of the sun).  It is so hot that it turns sand into glass (called Fulgurites).


What causes Thunder?

Simple answer…Lightning causes thunder! Energy from a lightning channel heats the air to around 18,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightning is estimated to be approximately 53,540 degrees Fahrenheit (about 5 times hotter than the surface of the sun). This causes the air to rapidly expand, creating a sound wave known as thunder. The stepped leader causes the initial tearing sound, and the ground streamer causes the sharp click or crack heard at a very close range, just before the main crash of thunder.

 Different types of Lightning?

There are several types of lightning.  They are as follows:







In Cloud


Sheet Lightning


Lightning Sprites

Below two images are courtesy of


Bolt from the blue