Arizona Lightning by Royal Norman

Posted: Updated:
Lightning near Tucson. (Source: Lori Grace Bailey Photography) Lightning near Tucson. (Source: Lori Grace Bailey Photography)
Lightning over downtown Phoenix (Source: Bryan Snider Photography) Lightning over downtown Phoenix (Source: Bryan Snider Photography)
Positive streamers reach up to meet step leader (Source: Mike Olbinski Photography) Positive streamers reach up to meet step leader (Source: Mike Olbinski Photography)
Positive Lightning. (Source: Karen Swanson Photography) Positive Lightning. (Source: Karen Swanson Photography)
Sprite Lightning. (Source: Ben Cherry Photography) Sprite Lightning. (Source: Ben Cherry Photography)
(3TV/CBS 5) -

Don’t mess with lightning. Period. All the experts, people much smarter than me, say that when a storm approaches and you hear thunder, stop your outdoor activities immediately and seek shelter in a building or a car. Stay there until the storm passes. 

There’s a lot of lightning in Arizona and much of it comes during the monsoon. On average, the state sees more than ½ a million lightning strikes, lightning that strikes the ground, and probably more than 2 million total flashes when you count lightning within clouds. 

Which brings up the interesting question. Is it really cloud-to-ground or the other way around? Or a little bit of both?

A little of both, it turns out.

[SPECIAL SECTION: Arizona Monsoon 2017]

Most lightning that strikes the ground is negatively charged. It starts with an invisible “stepped leader” from the cloud. As it nears the ground, it’s met by a “streamer” which is a positive charge reaching up. When they meet, a “return stroke” of bright light travels back to the cloud at more than 50,000 miles a second. That’s the first part we usually see. Lightning can flicker along essentially the same channel more than a dozen times.

Positive lightning works the same way, just reversed, with a positive leader from the top of the thunderstorm meeting an uprising negative streamer to make the electric connection. Positive lightning can be 10 times more powerful than negative lightning and strike farther from a storm. It also does more damage and, probably, is responsible for most of the lightning-caused wildfires.

We’ll talk about sprites later this summer. And bipolar lightning. Yeah, it’s a real thing. In the meantime, stay safe when thunderstorms form and lightning develops.

Click/tap here to download the free azfamily mobile app.

Copyright 2017 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.


  • Arizona's Family Weather BlogMore>>

  • 5 Instagram accounts to follow for Arizona beauty

    5 Instagram accounts to follow for Arizona beauty

    Friday, February 16 2018 10:27 AM EST2018-02-16 15:27:03 GMT
    (Source: @grandcanyonNPS/@igersphx/@hikearizona/@grant_in_arizona/@cityofphoenixaz)(Source: @grandcanyonNPS/@igersphx/@hikearizona/@grant_in_arizona/@cityofphoenixaz)

    There are about 800 million Instagram accounts out there showing pictures of everything under the sun - and even beyond. But if you live in Arizona and the Valley of the Sun, here's a few Instagram accounts I think you may dig!

    More >

    There are about 800 million Instagram accounts out there showing pictures of everything under the sun - and even beyond. But if you live in Arizona and the Valley of the Sun, here's a few Instagram accounts I think you may dig!

    More >
  • My coworker's lemons are huge

    My coworker's lemons are huge

    Wednesday, February 14 2018 12:49 AM EST2018-02-14 05:49:33 GMT
    The fruit that my friend Charles Smith brings into work is amazing. (Source: Charles Smith)The fruit that my friend Charles Smith brings into work is amazing. (Source: Charles Smith)

    He has around 50 lemons on his tree and about 15 of them are jumbo sized. 

    More >

    He has around 50 lemons on his tree and about 15 of them are jumbo sized. 

    More >
  • Valentine’s climatology – Love is in the air!

    Valentine’s climatology – Love is in the air!

    Sunday, February 11 2018 6:32 PM EST2018-02-11 23:32:00 GMT
    (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)(Source: 3TV/CBS 5)

    Love is in the air, as well as rain, snow, winds and cooler temperatures.

    More >

    Love is in the air, as well as rain, snow, winds and cooler temperatures.

    More >