BLOG: What’s the Deal With Positive and Negative Lightning Strikes?

Chief Meteorologist Eric Wilhelm's Blog

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It’s thunderstorm season in northeast Ohio and western Pennsylvania and that means you see us showing a lot of graphics that look like this:

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You are no doubt familiar with the “traditional” radar, with the colors corresponding to the intensity of the precipitation. Modern weather software can also display lightning data on top of the radar and this is a valuable tool in our arsenal. I am frequently asked questions such as “What do the (+) signs mean?” and “What’s the difference between positive and negative lightning?”

The fact is, there is a significant difference between the two. Knowing the charge of lightning can tell us about the nature of a thunderstorm. We also know that positively charged lightning is much more powerful and dangerous than lightning with a negative charge.

HOW DOES LIGHTNING FORM?

In mature thunderstorms, the bottom of the storm contains rain and melting hail. The middle…

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