Lightning is produced as a result of the separation of charges in the atmosphere

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Thunderstorms moved through South Texas on Monday evening and gave Corpus Christi a pretty light show as lightning lit up the evening sky.

Basically, lightning is a giant spark of electricity in the atmosphere between clouds, air, or ground when opposing electrical charges are formed.

Thunderstorms are highly turbulent environments with updrafts and downdrafts that carry water droplets and ice crystals through the cloud. This causes a separation of charges in the cloud with a negative charge at the bottom of the cloud and a positive charge at the top.

When positive and negative charges begin to separate in the cloud, an electric field is generated between its top and base. Further separation of these charges into pools of positive and negative regions results in a strengthening of the electric field.

In the early stages of development, the air acts as an insulator between the positive and negative charges in the cloud and between the cloud and the ground. When the opposite charges accumulate sufficiently, this insulating capacity of the air breaks down and there is a rapid electrical discharge which we call lightning. The lightning temporarily equalizes the charged regions in the atmosphere until the opposite charges build up again.

The electric field inside the storm is not the only one to develop. Beneath the base of the negatively charged storm, the positive charge begins to accumulate on the earth’s surface.

This positive charge will overshadow the storm wherever it goes and is responsible for cloud-to-ground lightning. However, the electric field inside the storm is much stronger than that between the base of the storm and the Earth’s surface, so most lightning strikes occur within the storm cloud itself.

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Robert M. Larson