What is a positive lightning strike?

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One of the great tools the 4WARN Weather Center has to dissect Monsoon storms is our lightning query. Not only can we track the amount of strikes in a 30 minute period, we can filter out the positive lighting strikes. Why is that important information for you at home?

PositiveStrikeAnatomy

Positive lightning originates at the anvil level of storms; roughly 40-50,000 feet. The charge goes into the negatively charged base of the cloud (situated around 10-20,000 feet), then completing the current by connecting with the positively charged Earth. While any lightning strike is dangerous, voltage and current of positive bolts are 10 times more powerful than the typical negative strike.

Courtesy: Mike Olbinski
Courtesy: Mike Olbinski

This image above from Arizona storm chaser Mike Olbinski is a textbook example of a positive lightning. Notice how far the bolt has to travel through the atmosphere. It takes A LOT of energy for that strike to travel nearly 50,000 feet, hence why positive lightning is much more powerful than negative lightning. Regardless of what type of bolt a storm has, when thunder roars, go indoors!

Below are some comments on positive lightning strikes from Mike Leuthold, a meteorologist at the University of Arizona.

 

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