The National Lightning map shows where cloud-to-ground lightning strikes have occurred in the last hour. Lightning is an atmospheric discharge of electricity, which typically occurs during thunderstorms
, and sometimes during volcanic eruptions or dust storms
. In the atmospheric electrical discharge, a leader of a bolt of lightning can travel at speeds of 60,000 m/s, and can reach temperatures
approaching 30,000°C (54,000°F), hot enough to fuse soil or sand into glass channels. There are over 16 million lightning storms every year.
Lightning can also occur within the ash clouds
from volcanic eruptions, or can be caused by violent forest fires which generate sufficient dust to create a static charge.
How lightning initially forms is still a matter of debate: Scientists have studied root causes ranging from atmospheric perturbations (wind
, and atmospheric pressure) to the impact of solar wind
and accumulation of charged solar particles. Ice inside a cloud
is thought to be a key element in lightning development, and may cause a forcible separation of positive and negative charges within the cloud
, thus assisting in the formation of lightning.