What Causes Lightning?

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By By Steve Pool

SEATTLE - It's still not quite fully understood and is incredibly complex, but one main theory goes that as water droplets move about inside some clouds, they can build up an electric charge -- much like how if you wear socks on a carpet, you build up a charge. The negatively charged particles tend to conglomerate at the bottom of a cloud, while the positively charged ones are at the top.

As the storm intensifies and more negative charges build at the base, it can actually push the negatively charged particles on the Earth's surface further into the ground (since similar charges repel each other) leaving mainly positive charges along the surface. Then, a conductive path will be generated between the negative cloud and positive Earth, allowing a huge electrical current to flow between the two charges. That's what we see as lightning.

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