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Lightning Strikes

Asked by: 1458 views General Aviation

I was reading that the probability of a lightning strike is greatest when the temperature is between -5ºC and 5°C and that lightning activity is more prevalent between 5,000 to 15,000 feet. What is the theory behind this temperature and altitude range?


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1 Answers

  1. Bill Trussell on Feb 15, 2013

    I will take a stab at this one but without knowing the source of your information it is hard to understand the context of the discussion and your question.

    First, recall that approximately 2/3 of the earth’s atmosphere by weight exists below 18,000 feet. That said, 2/3 of that which is necessary to generate the conditions for the creation of lightning exists in that same space. What is necessary is rapidly rising air in proximity to descending air. In that air is water vapor and associated molecules. The shearing of the atomic structure of those molicules is what creates the difference of potential that is built up to create the charge that is ultimately corrected (discharged) through and between adjacent air masses. The action of discharge presents itself (sometimes) as lightning.

    Your statement about altitude being between 5000 and 15000 implies cloud to cloud lightning activity. In this case the above scenario would apply. Below 5000 feet implies cloud to ground lightning. Also, most of the concentrated flow of air at that level is rising air or otherwise dispersed descending air. In any case the highest difference of potential would be where the greatest difference exists between the rising and decending air in the cloud generating the lightning, that being the middle altitudes.

    The best place to be in this situation is the lower third of the range of the cloud height, due to the separation of the air nearing the surface. Note that if we are discussing lightning strikes to aircraft, those can occur at any altitude and at any location in the vicinity of a storm generating such conditions.

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