Let’s say its a cloudy day, the sky is filled with dense clouds. Uh, a storm is on it’s way. So you rush home to safety. That freaking moment when you’re cozy in your room and a storm is raging out there amid thunder and lightning. That’s terrifying! Thank goodness you aren’t out there. Thunderstorms are terrifying, but we guess you had no idea there are kinds of them, and the ones you often see are the negative ones which are quite subtle, metaphorically speaking. But the positive ones would literally blow you away — don’t freak out quite too soon.
Related media: What Are Positive Lightning Strikes?
Negative Vs. Positive
Before we talk about the difference between negative and positive lightning, let’s take a crash course about the formation of lightning in the first place to begin with. Although scientists are still debating about the nitty-gritty details of the process, here’s a general theory. The thunderclouds are made up of tiny chunks of icy particles that collide and knock away their electrons. Obviously, some ice particles lose electrons, while others gain — the former gains a positive charge, and the latter a negative one.
The positively charged particles tend to gather at the top, and the negatively charged ones at the bottom. This results in a flash of static electricity — like the ones you experience on your fingers on a cold dry day, but to a huge degree, in comparison. And you’ve guessed already, as the charged particles increase, it will result in an exchange of energy. This is what then flashes out as the lightning you see in the sky — a bolt of electrons leaping from the negative end of the cloud to the positive end.
This happens most of the time, as that bolt stays between the top and bottom of the cloud. But the lightning you’ll ever see during a storm blasts it’s electrons towards the ground instead — as the negatively charged particles tend to interact with electrons on earth. When this happens, it’s known as (you guessed it) negative lightning, and accounts for about 95 percent of all lightning you’ll ever see.
Whence Cometh Positive Lightning?
By contrast, positive lightning, on the other hand, happens when positively charged particles gather at the top of the cloud. This hardly happens, because in the event of an ordinary storm cloud, the negatively charged particles are kept between the positively charged particles and the ground. Positive lightning is rare, unless there are winds strong enough to clear out the negatively charged particles, or when the storm has cleared. In other words, its like how your roof prevents rains from entering your room, take away the roof and there is disaster.
In the event of positive lightning, the electrons have a much further distance to travel upon reaching the ground; but when they do, oh my word! Watch out! In comparison, negative lightning releases roughly 300 million volts and 30,000 amps of electricity; whereas positive lightning releases billions of volts and roughly 300,000 amps. Yikes!
A Bullet From Zeus
In fact, fatal lightning strikes are relatively rare, and though positive lightning makes up only five percent of all lightning strikes, its bar none the most deadliest form of lightning that there is. They aren’t just deadly as a matter of power, but a lot more longer than their negative siblings (considering how long their trip from the top of the clouds to the ground would be). Positive lightning can strike as far as 32 to 48 kilometers (20 to 30 miles) away from the parent clouds — and do so when the storm is quite over (pun intended).
If all that sounds terrifying, chill. You’re more likely never to succumb to lightning, negative or positive. But here’s our word of caution, just wait a little while after the storm is over, that’s when Zeus strikes his positive ones out. Stay safe!
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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Mon, Sep 14, 2020.