Not all lightning strikes are equal: What type is most dangerous?

Cloud-to-ground lightning is 6 times hotter than the sun

By Candace Campos - Meteorologist

Between Tampa and Titusville, lightning is a daily occurrence, especially in the summer months. Due to the frequency and the sheer amount of strikes, this region is titled the lightning capitol of the country. But did you know that some types of lightning are more dangerous than others?

Lightning occurs when a strong positive charge forms within a cloud and a strong negative charge develops somewhere else, be another cloud, the ground or even the air surrounding it. 

Cloud-to-ground lightning: When the ground has a strong negative charge, the step leader (which is invisible to the human eye) zigzags downward in a forked pattern toward the ground. A return stroke of bright light travels about 60,000 miles per second up toward the cloud. This sequence happens so fast that one single, visible flash could consist of one or 20 return strokes. This type of strike is the most dangerous to people. Lightning is about 60,000 degrees, which is about six times hotter than the surface of the sun. 

Cloud-to-air lightning: This occurs when the air surrounding the cloud maintains a strong negative charge. If looked at carefully, you will see a visible channel that extends out into the air around the storm but  remains up in the sky.

Intra-cloud lightning: This lightning remains embedded within a cloud. The bolt in usually not seen; instead, the cloud lights up during the flash.

Cloud to cloud lightning: This is when a strong charge is present with nearby clouds. From the ground, you will see a bolt stretch from one cloud to another.

There is no way to predict which version of lightning is occurring during a storm, which is why experts say people should always head indoors when thunder roars. If lightning is visible, that means it is within a lightning risk area. A bolt of lightning can travel as far as 10 miles.

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