How does lightning occur?« Back to Questions List

Lightning is a beautiful but dangerous natural phenomenon. It will be quite easy to understand lightning, if we understand how a water cycle.

A. Evaporation is the process by which water on the ground turns into vapor. Water vapor being light rises up in the air. As it travels to higher altitude, where the air pressure is very low (making temperature very low), it once again turns into water by the process called ‘condensation’

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B. Earth’s gravitational pull brings back the water droplets formed by  condensation. Depending on how low the temperature is at higher altitudes, either water or snow returns back to the ground.

C. A cloud is nothing but a collection of millions of water droplets or ice in the atmosphere.  The cloud gets charged due to the collision of water molecules inside the cloud.

D. When the cloud gets charged, an electric field is created. As the charge builds up, the intensity of electric field becomes higher and higher. Scientists have found that this electric field is negative in the lower part of the cloud and positive in the upper portion. This causes a repulsion of electrons found on the surface of earth. This helps the earth to acquire strong positive charge.

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E. Electricity always tries to find the easiest path to the ground. When the electric field is very intense, electrostatic discharge occurs between the cloud and earth in the form of “lightning”.

A bolt of lightning can measure up to three million volts and it lasts less than 1 second. Scientists have found that the tallest buildings don’t always get struck by lightning during storms because the strike path is very unpredictable.