Atmospheric Phenomena


What are the different types of lightning?

Below are descriptions of the various forms that lightning can take.

  1. Normal lightning (also called streaked or forked lightning) travels from A) cloud to ground, B) cloud to air, C) cloud to cloud, or D) in cloud.

  2. Sheet lightning: a shapeless flash of lightning that covers a broad area.

  3. Ribbon lightning: normal lightning blown sideways by the wind in a way that makes it appear like parallel, successive strokes.

  4. Bead or chain lightning: lightning broken up into evenly spaced segments or beads.

  5. Heat lightning: lightning seen along the horizon during hot weather that is a reflection of lightning that occurred beyond the horizon in a distant thunderstorm.

  6. Ball lightning: a rare form of lightning in which a persistent and moving luminous white or colored sphere is seen. Ball lightning can last from a few seconds to several minutes, and it travels at a walking pace. It usually ranges in size from 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 centimeters), but it has been observed at sizes between 2 inches to 6 feet (5 to 183 centimeters). Because of their unusual behavior, in the past some people have associated them with spirits or other supernatural events. Ball lightning can wander in and out of rooms, usually vanishing harmlessly, but sometimes leaving holes in windows or doors.


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