Lightning can reach over 300 km/s

By: Marcus Vinicius

Did you know that lightning can reach more than 300 km/s? Yeah, that's the maximum recorded speed of lightning. The energy released during lightning is so great that, if it were possible to channel it, it would be enough to light up the entire city of São Paulo for 3 hours!

What is a ray?

Lightning is a meteorological phenomenon characterized by the rapid movement of an air mass towards the ground. This air mass, which can have different forms, is called by some authors as the “nucleus” of lightning. The speed of lightning can vary greatly, depending on the nature of the phenomenon, and can reach values close to 300 km/s.
In Brazil, lightning is more common in the Southeast and South regions of the country, where it occurs more frequently during spring and summer. However, these phenomena can also occur at other times of the year and in other regions.

Speed lightning can reach

The speed of lightning is extremely fast and can reach over 300 km/s. This is one of the reasons lightning is so dangerous as it can do a lot of damage in a short amount of time.
Lightning speed is determined by the size and shape of the storm cloud. The bigger and denser the cloud, the faster the lightning can travel.

How do rays form?

Lightning forms when clouds collide with each other or against the Earth's surface. These clouds are charged with static electricity, which builds up until there is a discharge. The color of the lightning depends on the temperature of the cloud: the hotter it is, the greater the chance of generating blue lightning; otherwise it will be white.
Lightning is a type of electrical discharge that occurs between clouds or between a cloud and the Earth's surface. These discharges are caused by the accumulation of static electricity in clouds. When clouds collide with each other or the Earth's surface, this electricity is released in the form of lightning.

The different types of rays

Rays can be classified in several ways, the most common being classification by size and classification by type of formation. As for the size, the rays can be: micro-rays, normal rays and super-rays. Regarding the formation, the rays can be: clouds-earth, earth-cloud or intra-cloud.

Most lightning strikes on Brazilian soil are of the earth-cloud type, that is, they are formed when an electrical discharge occurs between a cloud and the ground. In Brazil, the clouds that most produce this type of lightning are the cumulonimbus clouds. In general, these rays have a horizontal course and reach speeds close to that of light (300 km/s).
Microrays are the most common lightning, accounting for about 90% of the lightning strikes to the ground. They are formed when there is an electrical discharge between two clouds, and have a horizontal course. The clouds that most produce this type of lightning are the cumulonimbus clouds.

Normal rays are those whose path is vertical, that is, which depart from the ground and reach a cloud. They are formed during thunderstorms when electrical charges build up on the ground.

Super rays are the most intense rays, and are formed when there is an electrical discharge between two large clouds. They have a horizontal course and can reach speeds close to that of light (300 km/s).

How long does lightning last?

Lightning is formed when ice or water particles collect at the base of clouds. When these particles come together, they start to attract other particles to themselves and thus increase the size of the radius. Eventually, the lightning becomes so heavy that it falls out of the cloud.

The speed of lightning varies greatly, depending on the number of particles that form it. Some can reach speeds of up to 300 km/s!
Most bolts fall from the cloud in less than a second, but some can linger for up to 10 seconds before dissipating.

Where do lightning usually hit?

Lightning usually strikes the highest areas, such as mountains or buildings. They can also hit moving objects such as planes.
A person can be struck by lightning if they are outside during a thunderstorm. If inside a building, the person is still at risk of being struck if the building is not lightning-proof.

What are the effects of lightning?

When lightning strikes the ground, it can cause fires due to friction. The air temperature around lightning can reach 30,000 °C. That's almost twice the temperature of a fire flame!
The effects of lightning can be felt over great distances. The sound waves generated by the impact are called thunder. They can be heard for miles around.

Lightning can also cause damage to people and property. High temperatures can burn skin and fabrics. Thunder can also damage human ears.


The time for lightning to reach the ground is determined by its size and altitude. The larger the radius, the longer it takes to reach the ground. The beam's altitude also affects its arrival time. Earth rays (RT) are rays that travel from the ground to the ionosphere and back to the ground. Cloud-to-ground (CG) lightning is lightning that travels from the cloud to the ground.

An RT beam can reach speeds of over 300 km/s during its path through the ionosphere. The wind speed at the top of the ionosphere is about 1 km/s. This means that air ions are swept backwards by the wind while the RT beam moves forward. The total velocity of the RT beam is therefore the sum of its own velocities and the wind velocity at the top of the ionosphere.

CG rays generally do not reach the altitudes of the ionosphere. The wind speed at the altitude of a CG radius is therefore negligible. CG beams are faster than RT beams and reach the ground in less time.

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