An overview of thunderstorms and lightning

Considering the UK is experiencing frequent thunderstorm activity at the moment I thought it would be appropriate to write about what I have found out about thunderstorms. Thunderstorms are my favourite type of weather, I love how dramatic it is and how it can provide a good few hours of entertainment. Last Thursday I experienced an amazing thunderstorm, the most amazing one I have ever seen. The lightning was practically continuous at one point and I saw lightning appear in many different colours from red to green. There were many amazing pictures of lightning strikes on the internet the following day, and I am wishing now that I took some. I used to be terrified of thunderstorms when I was younger, but now I love them and I am hoping for some more over the summer. Below I’ve shared a few pictures posted on twitter after Thursday’s events.

Thunderstorms are created inside cumulonimbus clouds when hail and ice collide as they move up and down inside the cloud which causes particles with a positive electric charge to gather at the top of the cloud and those with a negative charge to accumulate at the base of the cloud.  The negatively charged particles cause a positive charge onto the ground below and when this charge builds up to a certain point it causes a spark of lightning to be created. Thunder is the sound created by the explosion of the air that is adjacent to the lightning when it is heated to 30,000 degrees C in under a second.

Thunder cloud (photo credit:

Lightning types

Cloud to ground lightning: This lightning seemed to be common on Thursday night. It occurs when the lightning moves from the cloud downwards to hit the ground.

Cloud to ground lightning (photo credit: wikipedia)

Intra-cloud lightning: This is sometimes known as sheet lighting as it lights up the entire sky. It is when lightning jumps from one section of a cloud to another.

Anvil Crawlers: This is horizontal lightning that spreads across the sky in a pattern similar to that of tree branches. This lightning is slower than other types of lightning, making it easier to capture on a normal camera. This type of lightning often occurs at high altitudes meaning the thunder associated with it is softer to the sound compared to other lightning types.

Cloud to air lightning: This is when a lightning bolt or part of a lightning bolt jumps from its cloud into clear air. This is most impressive when a lightning bolt jumps from the side of a cumulonimbus cloud and finishes in the clear air surrounding the storm cloud.

Sprites: These are electrical discharges that occur well above a thundercloud. They appear as red columns that are extremely faint ans quick making them practically invisible to the naked eye and also very difficult to photograph or film. They are best filmed at long distances away from the actual storm.

Rare Sprite lightning (photo credit:

Ball lightning: This is a very rare type of lightning that appears as a bright floating sphere or light that occurs within a thundercloud. They have a mysterious nature due the rarity of seeing them but also as they can be different each time seen. They can appear to move slow, fast or even just remain still. They can be quiet or can produce a hissing or cracking noise. They can also appear quickly or slowly, quietly or with a loud bang.  It can also pass through windows. They are so rare that there are no definitive photographs of this type of lightning. Scientists have yet to come up with an explanation for this strange type of lightning and therefore this has caused people to jump to conclusions of thinking they are actually UFO’s or some other unidentified object. This is the type of lightning I would like to hear more about.



  • Information on the formation of thunder clouds and thunder storms sourced from: “Earth the definitive visual guide”  (page 484) Dorling Kindersley Limited 2013 ISBN 978-1-4093-4158-1
  • information on different types of lightning sourced from:
  • Many thanks also to those people who uploaded brilliant photographs of lightning over Cornwall onto twitter






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