Typically lightning happens during a thunderstorm, although it can happen at other times. You can't have a thunderstorm without lightning, but you can have lightning without a thunderstorm. Lightning can also be seen during a volcanic eruption, extremely intense forest fires, surface nuclear detonations and heavy snowstorms.
Lightning is a huge spark or discharge of electricity in the atmosphere between clouds, the air, or the ground. It is either a negative or a positive electrical charge. They can either go from cloud to ground, intra-cloud or cloud to cloud which never hit the ground.
The 4 Possible Lightning Strike Types:
-IC - Negative cloud to cloud (intra-cloud)
-CG - Negative cloud to ground
+IC - Positive cloud to cloud (intra-cloud)
+CG - Positive cloud to ground.
Positive lightning is normally considered more dangerous because its electrical field is stronger. It forms at the top of the storm and the flash duration is typically longer. Its peak charge can be much greater than a negative strike. Also, positively charged lightning strikes can occur near the edges of a cloud or it can strike more than 10 miles away, many times under blue skies when people aren't aware of the danger.
When lightning strikes ground what tends to happen is that it fuses clays and dirt in to silicas. The result is often a glassy rock called a fulgurite. Having the shape of a convoluted tube. Fulgurite is found all over the world and is fairly rare. In the lower 48 states there is an average of 20,000,000 cloud-to-ground strikes that have been detected each year since 1989.
About The Lightning Equipment & Range:
We use a Boltek StormTraker for the Lightning Detector hardware and Astrogenic NexStorm software for all of our Live Lightning Detection Radar seen on this page. The station is based at our El Dorado Weather location at our Placerville, California, USA location, and covers all of Northern California, all of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the Tehachapi Mountains down to Los Angeles and Southern, California. It also covers deep into Oregon. The strongest signals are from 300 miles in and there are typically a few shadows due to mountains. We also keep Live and Archived Weather Data for Placerville, California.
Boltek StormTracker is the weather industry standard in lightning detection equipment. Boltek StormTracker detects lightning strikes up to 300 miles away in each direction, which covers a circle around the station with a 600 mile diameter. It plots and tracks lightning strikes directly to the Internet and then to you within about a minute of a lightning strike.
What Does It Do?
Boltek StormTracker Detectors use state-of-the-art technology to make real-time lightning detection that allows you to not only tell if lightning is near but see basically where it is at. It tracks the speed and direction of thunder storms, allowing you to plot the path of the storm and how fast it is traveling. Thus showing you where the tstorm should hit and when the storm will get there. The Boltek StormTracker hardware is being used in conjuction with Astrogenic Systems, NexStorm software.
How Does It Work?
StormTracker detects the low frequency radio signals produced by lightning's electrical discharge. This signal is the crackling you hear on an AM radio when thunderstorms are nearby. These signals travel for hundreds of miles and are detected by StormTracker's antenna.
StormTracker uses a direction-finding antenna to determine the direction the lightning signal came from. StormTracker's receiver looks at the signal strength to calculate an approximate distance for the lightning strike. There is additional processing done in software to reduce the effect of strike to strike magnitude variations. Once StormTracker knows the direction and distance of the strike it plots it on the map
Who Uses a Boltek StormTracker?
Some of the users that use Boltek are the US Air Force, Government Weather Forcasters, Government Computer Centers, US Air Navy, Emergency Management Agencies, Skywarn Spotters, Storm Chasers, and both Public & Private Weather Forcasters alike.