The answer is BOTH: There are distinct types of lightning strikes to earth that can travel in either direction - cloud-to-ground lightning and ground-to-cloud lightning. A typical cloud-to-ground flash lowers a path of negative electricity (that we cannot see) towards the ground in a series of spurts. Thunderstorms are like static electricity on a massive scale. Lightning Myths and Facts. Atoms pass along electrical charge much more quickly than sound vibrations. Contrary to the common expression, lightning can and often does strike the same place twice. Fact: Crouching doesn't make you any safer outdoors. I have never seen a photo of a partial streak that has only reached partway from the cloud to the ground, and I probably never will, since it happens so quickly. 1: From high-speed video of a cloud-to-ground strike near Arian, Texas: The stepped leader descends, followed by the bright return stroke in the last 3 frames. Artificially initiated lightning is associated with things like very tall structures, rockets and towers. When you are that close to a storm, you don't stand by the window and watch to see whether the lightning goes up or down. @Leonidas226 – How horrifying! We are still at a loss to understand how it works completely. How Should I Prepare for Lightning Storms. I have heard stories of people getting struck inside their own homes, and I wanted to get in the spot that was totally windowless and doorless. This process can only be observed with the assistance of extremely quick-exposure cameras. The immense flash generated is enough to leave an afterimage in our eyes for seconds at a time, giving us the illusion that the lightning flash is longer than it really is. I'm amazed that jumping in the van saved you. AT RIGHT: Photo of cloud-to-ground lightning. It is both a wavelength and particles. As it nears the ground, it induces enormous quantities of positive charge in the earth, especially at the tips of tall objects. Lightning can travel both up and down. Sound is much slower, being more akin to feeling of the surrounding environment. So does the lightning strike down, or up? This helped to foster community, but was also highly dangerous. Luckily, we were about to get into the van, so we quickly hopped in. I suppose the charge from your heads was going up to meet the charge in the sky at that time. I have been in thunderstorms where the sound of thunder happened so quickly after the flash that I knew I had to be right in the middle of the storm. Because opposites attract, the stepped leader and the negative charge at the ground reach towards each other and quickly meet. Advertisement. If you are too far to run to one of these options, you have no good alternative. In Florida, there is a thunderstorm over the ocean about every day, and no one thinks much about it. And lightning is observed discharging upwards from the charged regions of the cloud in the troposphere. This describes the common storm cloud, but positively charged storm clouds have been documented. He has also worked for the A lightning bolt is created from the ground up and also down from the sky. Wikibuy Review: A Free Tool That Saves You Time and Money, 15 Creative Ways to Save Money That Actually Work. The stepped leader carries tons of negative charge. This is an extremely slow-motion animation- the actual process takes only a small fraction of a second. When these two streamers, or ion groups, meet, visible lightning is created. We only see the final product — a lightning bolt. Run to a substantial building or hard topped vehicle. I actually hid in the closet with my terrified Doberman. Small towns would band together to keep fires down. Your story scares me a little. to meet the upward leaders extending from the ground, and the first and subsequent return strokes. Because the cloud is filled with negative charge, it has a lot of current to offer to the newly created discharge path. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly Luckily, he survived, but he said it felt like someone whacked him in the head with a massive baseball bat. Let's take a look at the process through which lightning is known to be formed. Does lightning go up or down? There are two ways that flashes can strike ground: naturally downward (those that occur because of normal electrification in the environment), and artificially initiated or triggered upward. The return stroke takes around 100 millionths of a second to reach the ground. Atoms pass along electrical charge much more quickly than sound vibrations. Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation. The electronic function is almost light speed, but not quite. physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. Luckily, I was inside the house. Light is so immensely fast that it goes beyond time. The stepped leader generally moves at about 75 miles per second (120 km/s) towards the ground. Did lightning strike the van at all, or did it strike the ground next to it? I have seen some good lightning photos, but they were only of the actual streaks of lightning in their full glory. Well both actually. The path from storm cloud to the surface is complete and the charge can move. This animation depicts the stepped leader descending AT RIGHT: Photo of ground-to-cloud (upward) lightning striking a television broadcast tower. In reality, our eyes cannot resolve any of the steps involved. The answer is both. Triggered lightning starts at the “ground,” which in this case may mean the top of a tower, and travels upwar… Does lightning strike from the sky down, or the ground up? This discharge is called the return stroke, and is what we think of when we hear the word "lightning". Before them, houses would light on fire when struck by lightning, and the fire department was kept busy during thunderstorms. This charge quickly moves from being distributed throughout the cloud to being concentrated at the point where the stepped leader first dropped from the cloud, into the ground or an elevated object. passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. Michael is a longtime wiseGEEK contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, This is usually the second stage before lightning hits. These discharges into space are a new subject of study, and are called sprites. For each of these types of lightning, current flow and leader development can also take place in both directions.