Since I’m on vacation, I saw this picture of curving & curling lightning when my colleague Matt Brode showed it on KOIN Local 6 news last night. What a shot! The Portland-Vancouver metro area had 210 lightning strikes Thursday evening.
@jeffraetz tweeted this photo of one incredible lightning strike over Happy Valley. Have you ever wondered how lightning can make a shape like this?
Or how it can take a jagged path or a forked path across the sky?
The answer is this: lightning is following an invisible but very specific track across the sky that develops before we ever see a flash.
This track is made up of small segments called ‘stepped leaders’.
Some come from the cloud down toward earth, while others come from the ground up toward the sky. These leaders can twist and turn or zig & zag across the sky. A split in one of these leaders can create a forked look to the lightning.
When the leaders from above & below get close enough to each other…bam!…there’s a lightning strike.
This same concept applies in cloud to cloud lightning, too. The leaders step from one cloud to another.
Thunderstorms form when things are out of whack (charges in the atmosphere, specifically) and lightning is the weather’s way of trying to balance things out again.
So, I hope you enjoyed Portland’s third Thunderstorm day of 2012.
And now you know what causes that lightning to make such cool shapes!