Climate and Weather

Air Phenomena

What is Saint Elmo’s fire?

Saint Elmo’s fire has been described as a corona from electric discharge produced on high grounded metal objects, chimney tops, and ship masts. Since it often occurs during thunderstorms, the electrical source may be lightning. Another description refers to this phenomenon as weak static electricity formed when an electrified cloud touches a high exposed point. Molecules of gas in the air around this point become ionized and glow. The name originated with sailors who were among the first to witness the display of spearlike or tufted flames on the tops of their ships’ masts. Saint Elmo (which is a corruption of Saint Ermo) is the patron saint of sailors, so they named the fire after him.


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