Skip Navigation Linkwww.nws.noaa.gov 
NOAA logo - Click to go to the NOAA homepage National Weather Service   NWS logo - Click to go to the NWS homepage
Lightning Safety Program
   
Partners/Links
Contact Us
USA.gov is the U.S. government's official web portal to all federal, state and local government web resources and services.

Understanding Lightning:
Slow Motion Video Of Lightning Flashes

animation of lightning
Figure 1

Recent advances in video equipment allow videographers to capture high speed images of lightning. These cameras are capable of capturing many stages of the lightning flash that the human eye cannot discern. When played back in slow motion, stepped leaders, upward leaders, streamers, dart leaders, and return strokes can be seen. Figure 1 is an example of video from a high speed camera. This video was recorded at 4000 frames/second. Played back at 30 frames/second, 1 second of recorded video lasts 2 minutes and 13 seconds.

Although somewhat overexposed, this video shows a highly branched step leader approaching the ground. When one branch of the stepped leader makes a connection, a very bright return stroke surges upward through the channel. Note that the actual time between the appearance of the stepped leader in the cloud until the return stroke is about 1/133 of a second. Only one return stroke was recorded with this flash.

animation 2 of lightning flash animation 3 of lightning flash
Figure 2 Figure 3

Figure 2 shows another stepped leader approaching the ground. Unlike the previous example, this video shows just two main channels of a stepped leader approaching ground. This video is less exposed than the previous example (which makes everything appear dimmer). In this case, the tips of the stepped leaders are racing toward the ground. The first to make a connection discharges the entire channel. Note that the actual time between the appearance of the stepped leader to the return stroke is about 1/50 of a second. Figure 3 is the same as Figure 2, except played back at an even slower rate to show the apparent movement of the return stroke as the two channels are discharged.

Recent advances in video equipment allow videographers to capture high speed images of lightning. These cameras are capable of capturing many stages of the lightning flash that the human eye cannot discern. When played back in slow motion, stepped leaders, upward leaders, streamers, dart leaders, and return strokes can be seen. The first animation is an example of video from a high speed camera.This video was recorded at 4000 frames/second. Played back at 30 frames/second, 1 second of recorded video lasts 2 minutes and 13 seconds.

Although somewhat overexposed, this video shows a highly branched step leader approaching the ground. When one branch of the stepped leader makes a connection, a very bright return stroke surges upward through the channel. Note that the actual time between the appearance of the stepped leader in the cloud until the return stroke is about 1/133 of a second. Only one return stroke was recorded with this flash.

The second animation shows another stepped leader approaching the ground. Unlike the previous example, this video shows just two main channels of a stepped leader approaching ground. This video is less exposed than the previous example (which makes everything appear dimmer). In this case, the tips of the stepped leaders are racing toward the ground. The first to make a connection discharges the entire channel. Note that the actual time between the appearance of the stepped leader to the return stroke is about 1/50 of a second. The third animation is the same as the second, except played back at an even slower rate to show the apparent movement of the return stroke as the two channels are discharged.

Learn about Ground Currents or Return to Contents page


NOAA, National Weather Service
Office of Climate, Water, and Weather Services
1325 East West Highway
Silver Spring, MD 20910
Questions, Comments?

Disclaimer
Credits
Glossary
Privacy Policy
About Us
Career Opportunities