Types of lightning

Lightning is a spectacular and at the same time frightening natural phenomenon, which demonstrates the power of nature and leaves nobody indifferent. Many people are afraid of lightning and thunder, while some even chase the storms in order to record and photograph this spectacle of nature. No matter which group you belong to, you might find it useful to better understand the lightning and learn the differences between the possible types.

Generally speaking, every lightning is an electrostatic discharge between two different areas of charge. However, these areas may differ, and depending on them, a variety of lightning types may occur. In this text, we will mention some of the most notable variants of lightning occurring in nature.

Negative cloud-to-ground lightning – this is a very common variant of lightning you can see in person or captured on photos and videos. It is an electric discharge between cloud and ground, initiated by negatively charged electrical breakdown. Upon being formed, the lightning moves downwards creating the recognizable “branches”, and there are several return strokes of light.

Positive cloud-to-ground lightning – this is another type of electric discharge, but it goes in reverse direction from the negative variant. It is initiated by positively charged electrical breakdown and it can be recognized by distinctive lack of branches. It comes with only one return stroke, but very bright and powerful, and it is usually followed by very loud and deep sound of thunder.

Ground-to-cloud lightning – electric discharge may go in the opposite direction from the one described above, and this is called ground-to-cloud lightning. It is initiated by a ground-based object and moves upwards to the clouds. It is most commonly started on the top of tall towers, and it can also have positive and negative discharge, which determines whether it will have the branches or not.


Intracloud and cloud-to-cloud lightning – these types of lightning occur the most frequently. Intracloud lighting occurs within one cloud, shifting between differently charged regions within it, and cloud-to-cloud lighning shifts between two or more clouds. These phenomena produce the so-called “sheet lightning”, because they illuminate the sky with the evenly distributed bright light.

Anvil crawlers – anvil crawlers can be quite a spectacular sight for the observer. They appear in the horizontal position, usually on very high altitudes, and they can be connected to intracloud, cloud-to-cloud or cloud-to-ground discharge. They are characterized by very slow movement which can easily be captured by a camera or a human eye, which makes them truly interesting and impressive.

Bead lightning – bead lightning is not exactly a distinctive type of lightning, but rather a stage when the luminosity begins to decay. Every type of lightning has this stage, and it appears as a string of light beads lined one after another. This stage is rather short lasting, and it is thus obvious only to the observer very close to the lightning.

While thunderstorms may be frightening and sometimes even dangerous, we cannot deny that lightning is truly magnificent and spectacular occurrence worth observing.