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Summer is the time of mounting cumulus clouds, the sharp claps and growling rumble of thunder, and the shock and beauty of lightning in its myriad forms. Lightning can appear as flashes, pulsing sheets, and frightening jagged strikes. Not only does it occur during thunderstorms, but it also can appear around erupting volcanoes and intense forest fires as well as occasionally during snowstorms.

What is lightning? NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory provided this good explanation of the phenomenon of lightning.

“Lightning is a channel of electrical charge called a stepped leader that zigzags downward in roughly 50-yard segments in a forked pattern. This step leader is invisible to the human eye, and shoots to the ground in less time than it takes to blink. As it nears the ground, the charged step leader is attracted to a channel of opposite charge reaching up, a streamer, normally through something tall, such as a tree, house, or telephone pole. When the oppositely-charged leader and streamer connect, a powerful electrical current begins flowing. A bright return stroke travels about 60,000 miles per second back towards the cloud. A flash consists of one or perhaps as many as 20 return strokes. We see lightning flicker when the process rapidly repeats itself several times along the same path. The actual diameter of a lightning channel is one-to-two inches.”

Australian Michael Bath has been pursuing his passion of photographing severe weather since 1988. He works for the Early Warning Network monitoring severe weather around Australia and issuing alerts. For more of his lightning photography, click here.

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