While upward lightning isn’t extremely rare, it’s a beautiful sight and tough to capture on camera.
Have you seen this viral video of upward lightning captured from Kansas back in the spring? It’s an incredible real world example of this phenomenon.
You might be thinking this is something you’d only see in the Midwest or maybe the lightning capital of the U.S., Florida. Believe it or not, it can happen anywhere.
Most upward lightning occurrences happen when there is a nearby positive cloud-to-ground strike, as shown in the animation above.
The electric charge change caused by the first strike causes an upward positive leader to initiate from a tall object like a cellphone tower, building or wind turbine. Without the tall, nearby object, the upward flash would not happen.
The rarer instance of upward lightning occurs in winter storms that contain strong winds. A positive upward leader followed by an upward lightning strike can be initiated from a tall object without a preceding cloud to ground strike.
So the next time you’re enjoying a thunderstorm, instead of scanning the sky for lightning bolts, look toward towers and tall buildings. You may see something you’ve never seen before!