Summertime often brings the most intense lightning displays of the year, which has been pretty evident by storms this past week. Not only have storms been producing frequent lightning, but storms have been producing a wide variety of lightning types.
‘Heat’ Lightning: We received a flood of incredible photos and videos featuring what many refer to as heat lightning. This title is misleading and inaccurate though; by official definition heat lightning does not exist. Heat lightning usually refers to lightning that is simply too far away to hear, and so it simply appears as a flash in the distance.
This can also refer to intra-cloud lightning, which is the most common type of lightning. This type of lightning develops the same way that all lightning does: as an electrical current running between opposing charges. In the case of intra-cloud lightning the positive and negative charges are both within the cloud, thus the lightning stays confined within the cloud too. This makes it appear like the cloud is lightning up with flashes of light, instead of the classic 'strike' that you see with lightning bolts.
Cloud-To-Air Lightning:The electrical current that produces lightning can strike in any direction to reach the opposing charge it's after, and that includes straight into the air. Jim Hodgson caught video of this occurring Tuesday night.
Cloud to air lightning appears as a bolt striking straight up out of the cloud into the air. This occurs when positive charges accumulate within the top of the cloud and reach out into the negatively charged air around it.
Bolts From The Blue: The reason we tell you to always head indoors if you hear thunder is because lightning can strike up to 25 miles away from the parent storm! Often called a bolt from the blue, these lightning strikes extend from the updraft of a storm and extend outward for miles before striking the ground.
This type of lightning is actually fairly common in the summer months and is one of the most dangerous types. As you plan for outdoor activities in the coming weeks remember this: if you can hear lightning, you are close enough to be hit.
For more information on how lightning forms and the different types of lightning strikes you can head here!