News of the WeekAtmospheric Science

Mexican Fires Charge Up U.S. Clouds

Science  02 Oct 1998:
Vol. 282, Issue 5386, pp. 21-22
DOI: 10.1126/science.282.5386.21a

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Summary

Last spring, smoke from massive fires in Mexico spawned stronger, more sustained lightning than normal over the Great Plains, thousands of kilometers away. According to lightning records, storms that had absorbed the smoke zapped the ground with three times the usual number of positively charged lightning strokes, which typically last longer than negatively charged ones and can inflict worse damage. Moreover, these positive bolts carried twice as much current as similar flashes produced by smoke-free storms. The study, reported on page 77 of this issue, has put a charge into veteran lightning researchers, who think it may hold an important new clue to the mystery of how thunderclouds generate lightning.