Cloud-to-Cloud Lightning Puts on a Show
The most common type of lightning associated with a thunderstorm is cloud-to-cloud lightning. This type of lightning never reaches the ground and is often best viewed after a thunderstorm has exited the area, or has missed an area. Cloud-to-cloud lightning will often produce a vivid light show, visible in the sky for many miles away from the parent thunderstorm. This was the case on Saturday evening, with a frequent cloud-to-cloud lightning show as storms moved east of D.C.
What causes cloud-to-cloud lightning? Keep reading for more photos and discussion...
Once enough electric charge has been accumulated in a growing storm, a lightning bolt can occur. Lightning bolts normally travel from cloud to cloud (CC) or from cloud to ground (CG). Most storms produce more CC than CG flashes -- about twice as many in the typical storms we see around here, and about six times more in tropical storms.
Exactly what triggers cloud-to-cloud lightning is still unknown and is an area of continued research. Having watched thunderstorms for years, I find that as a thunderstorm is rapidly growing and intensifying, there are frequent cloud-to-ground strikes. As the thunderstorm matures, and even starts to collapse, I see more cloud-to-cloud lightning. I've also noticed that certain sectors of a thunderstorm produce cloud-to-ground strikes while other sectors seem to have more cloud-to-cloud lightning. Thunderstorms go through cycles of growth and collapse and this may partly explain this observation.
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