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Lightning basics - 4. Structure of thunderclouds

 

Electrical charge distribution in thunderclouds

 
Electrical charge distribution in thunderclouds  

Figure 1 shows the electrical charge distribution inside a thundercloud in its mature stage. The positive charge is distributed widely at the top of the cloud, while the negative charge is distributed vertically, in a column.

The precipitation area is distributed densely from around the freezing level (an altitude where the temperature is 0ºC) to heights where the temperature is minus 40ºC.

Also, there are positive charges distributed locally near the base of the cloud.

 
 
 

Electrical charge distribution in thunderclouds

 
Electrical charge distribution in thunderclouds  

Figure 2 compares a model of thunderclouds observed in winter in northern Japan with a typical summer thundercloud. The figure shows how the winter thundercloud lies low at low temperature altitudes and, due to powerful north westerly seasonal winds, the cells of the thundercloud incline towards the horizontal.

Whereas the vertical structure of the summer cells means that lightning is discharged exclusively from the negative charge in the lower part of the cloud, in the winter cells the diagonally upward positive charge tends to discharge lightning directly towards the ground. In the northern part of Japan, about half of the lightning is of this type.

 
 
 
 
 

Lightning basics

 

1. How does lightning happen?

2. Conditions for lightning

3. Types of thunder

●4. Structure of thunderclouds

 

5. Conditions for lightning

6. How to protect yourself from lightning

7. The scale of lightning and lightning damage (power lines)

 
 

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