How It Works
Lightning in the clouds
Hi HIW, We have had a lot of thunder and lightning recently and I have managed to get some photos. I was wondering about what sort of lightning this was, as it seemed to go from cloud to cloud, not like forked or sheet lightning. Could you please explain what type of lightning this is and why it goes between two clouds? Tessa
What a spectacular shot. This type of lightning is relatively rare, and you have captured a clear strike. When observing a thunderstorm, more often than not the lightning will travel from a cloud to the ground. But sometimes intercloud lightning takes place, with bolts travelling sideways. This is often called spider lightning, as it creeps horizontally underneath the clouds. While sheet lightning never leaves a cloud, intercloud lightning can be seen leaving one and travelling to another. The area travelled to by the lightning depends on the surrounding electrical charges. Ice crystals and water droplets in the clouds create electrical charges, which then separate, with positive charges usually found at the top of a cloud and the negative sinking to the bottom. When the negative charges gain strength, lightning is drawn towards the nearest positive charge. If this is found in the surrounding clouds, this is where it will track to across the sky. Next time the sky lights up, keep a look out for the different paths and variations.