What’s the Weather: How does lightning form?

Weather Authority University

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Lightning can be beautiful, but it’s important to remember how dangerous it can be as well. We often see it light up the sky in the spring and summer in Middle Tennessee and Southern Kentucky.

June 20th kicked off National Lightning Safety Week, and June 28th marks International Lightning Safety Day.

According to the National Lightning Safety Council, since the awareness campaign was launched in 2001, in the United States lightning fatalities have decreased from about 55 a year to less than 30 a year.

How does lightning form?

The process begins when ice crystals inside a cloud collide, and as a result, electrons collect in the cloud base. Those electrons begin to form what is known as the stepped leader — essentially, the charge that comes down from the cloud in cloud-to-ground lightning.

On the flip side, a positive charge begins to be pulled up from the ground, forming the streamer. Eventually, the stepped leader and the streamer meet, and a current flows between them. That current is what we see as lightning.

There are many types of lightning, but one of the more common types is cloud-to-ground lightning.

On average, there are 20,000,000 cloud-to-ground lightning strikes per year.

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