Lightning comes in different types. In-cloud lightning is the most common.

Lightning comes in different types. In-cloud lightning is the most common.

Lightning strikes Earth when the negative electrical charge from the cloud leaps to a positive charge on the ground. (AP)

Lightning strikes Earth when the negative electrical charge from the cloud leaps to a positive charge on the ground. (AP)

Cloud-to-cloud lightning jumps between storm clouds above a football game. (AP)

Cloud-to-cloud lightning jumps between storm clouds above a football game. (AP)

Some scientists think bead lightning gets its shape because rain covers part of it. (AP)

Some scientists think bead lightning gets its shape because rain covers part of it. (AP)

Ribbon lightning looks like it has been spread sideways.  (AP)

Ribbon lightning looks like it has been spread sideways. (AP)

From the Clouds to the Ground

Posted: November 1, 2017

A huge lightning bolt zaps from the sky to the ground. But 18-year-old Hope doesn’t see it. She feels it. She is outside with her grandma waiting for fireworks to begin in Omaha, Nebraska. She’s also waiting for a thunderstorm to pass. When the lightning hits her, she flies up into the air. She feels like her teeth are shattering and her hair will fall out. Her big toenail is missing. A scar on her face shows where the lightning exited. The spot is too hot to touch! For a week, one side of her body is paralyzed. She learns a life-saving lesson: Wherever there is thunder, there is always lightning too. 

Hope experienced cloud-to-ground lightning. That kind does the most damage of all lightning types. It happens when negatively-charged electricity hurtles toward the positively-charged ground. It can start fires, injure or kill people, and even make trees burst into flames. It’s the kind people with astraphobia (unusual fear of thunder and lightning) worry about the most. It makes sense for everyone to have a healthy respect for lightning though. It’s five times hotter than the surface of the Sun!

Four Kinds of Lightning

You have probably seen cloud-to-ground lightning often. But during the next storm, keep an eye out for these types too.

In-cloud lightning. This is the most common type of lightning. It happens when two different electrical charges exist in one cloud. The cloud lights up and flickers in the sky. When this zap causes a huge area of light to flash, it is called sheet lightning.

Cloud-to-cloud lightning. This uncommon type of lightning happens when a negative charge in one cloud zaps toward a positive charge in another. Lightning streaks between the clouds.

Ribbon lightning. This kind of lightning occurs when a regular lightning bolt looks like it has been spread sideways in a ribbon shape. This usually happens when a very strong wind blows it across the sky.

Bead lightning. Bead lightning looks just like you’d expect—like a streak of lightning divided into dots or beads. No one is sure why this happens. One theory is that rain or clouds hide part of the streak.