Upward moving lightning is captured in Kansas. Why did it shoot toward the sky?

·2 min read
@RyanMatoushWX/Video Screengrab

Usually when you watch a strike of lightning branch across the sky, you’ll see it move through the clouds or travel from the sky down toward the ground.

While that’s how lightning most often travels, it can also move upward toward the clouds, according to the National Severe Storms Laboratory.

Kansas meteorologist Ryan Matoush captured upward moving lightning for the first time during a May 17 storm in Lawrence, about 40 miles southwest of Kansas City.

“Still in complete awe of this moment last night,” the KSNT 27 News meteorologist tweeted the next day.

In his 13-second video, lightning appears to start low and move up into the stormy night sky.

What causes upward lightning?

“While most lightning is initiated by downward leaders, either negative or less frequently positive, upward propagating discharges, both negative and positive, are possible, but rare,” according to the National Weather Service.

It is believed these upward discharges will only occur during rapid changes in the charges, like after a recent branch of lightning.

“The most important finding about upward lightning, is that it primarily occurs when there is a nearby positive cloud-to-ground flash,” according to the Royal Meteorological Society.

Matoush believes that was likely the case on May 17, according to KSNT.

“This reversal, of the more standard cloud to ground lightning, likely has to do with the fact that the nearby electric field had been disrupted due to prior bolts,” he said, per KSNT.

In most cases of upward lightning, experts with the National Weather Service say the discharges occur from the tops of towers, buildings and mountains.

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