Hurricanes are some of the most destructive weather phenomena on the planet, often bringing with them incredibly strong wind, rain, and dark cloud.
They often appear in the warm summer months when temperatures are high and they can fuel themselves from the tropical updrafts on the ocean.
But do hurricanes have lightning?
In short, it’s very rare for hurricanes to have lightning, and in most cases, they do not.
Let’s take a closer look…
Do Hurricanes Actually Have Lightning?
It’s very rare for hurricanes to bring with them lightning, this is because both thunder and lightning are caused by vertical winds that cause ice and water to rub together.
This friction is what creates the electrical field that causes thunder and lightning.
The wind of a hurricane is mostly horizontal, and hurricanes are “warm code” tropical systems which means there is little, or no cold air aloft for water and ice to rub together.
However, there have been some hurricanes that have brought lightning with them:
- Hurricane Rita
- Hurricane Katrina
- Hurricane Emily
- Hurricane Matthew
- Hurricane Georges
All of these hurricanes brought strong thunder and lightning, and they all had similarities between them.
Firstly, they were all incredibly powerful hurricanes, with Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Katrina being category 5 storms.
The lightning of all of these storms was witnessed around the hurricane eye-wall, and they were all over water when the lightning was detected.
NASA scientists are still unclear on exactly what caused these hurricanes to have lightning and thunder, as most hurricanes do not.
How Is Lightning Caused?
Lightning is an unmistakable, incredible natural phenomenon, and one that scientists are still learning about.
Worldwide, it’s estimated that lightning is happening 50 – 100 times per second!
Lightning is formed as a result of triboelectrification, which stems from powerful updrafts that help build electrical charges.
Thunderstorms are notorious for these updrafts, but in hurricanes, it’s rarely seen. In a thunderstorm, the air rises upwards very quickly, whereas, in a hurricane, it spirals horizontally.
Its generally thought that lighter particles moving toward the top of the clouds become positively charged, while heavier particles towards the bottom become negatively charged.
When these charges grow large enough, lightning is released between these regions.
How Much Lightning Is In A Hurricane?
Typically, hurricanes do not have lightning in them, and it’s still a mystery as to why some very powerful ones do.
Even when some powerful hurricanes do have lightning, like the ones mentioned above, it’s not as much lightning as you may think.
For example, observations found in Hurricane Georges’s lightning found that it was around 10 times less than that found in a typical thunderstorm.
This is likely due to the fact that lightning relies on vertical winds, and most hurricanes only have horizontal winds, meaning there is less chance of ice and water rubbing together.
NOAA has also reported that only around a dozen or fewer cloud-to-ground strikes per hour occur around the eye-wall of a storm.
They noted that many powerful hurricanes such as Hurricane Andrew in 1992 went several hours without any lightning whatsoever.
What Does Lightning In A Hurricane Mean?
Although lightning rarely occurs in hurricanes, there is no doubt that it sometimes does.
But what does lightning in a hurricane mean?
Well, according to the Washington Post, it’s a sign that the storm is intensifying and getting strong and strong.
This makes sense when we look at the types of hurricanes that have had lightning, they have been incredibly strong category 4 and category 5 storms.
When lightning strikes in a hurricane, it may mark the beginning of a “rapid intensification” phase, where the storm is growing at an alarming rate.
For example, in 2010 a paper from scientists in Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico found that Hurricane Rita, which was arguably the most intense hurricane ever observed in the Gulf of Mexico, featured a lightning barrage before its rapid intensification in 2005.
This correlates with the theory that when lightning is seen in a hurricane, it means that the storm is at optimal performance and going through a significant intensification phase.
So, do hurricanes have lightning? Rarely, but some of them do.
Some powerful hurricanes like the ones mentioned at the beginning of this post have contained lightning within them, often found near the eye of the hurricane.
Although it is rare, due to the fact that lightning usually only occurs with updrafts creating an electrical field that causes positively and negatively charged particles to collide.
Scientists are still looking into the reason why some powerful hurricanes have lightning, and why the majority of hurricanes do not.
Its quite alarming when looking at the paper from the scientists at Los Alamos, as they believe that lightning witnessed in hurricanes is a sign that the hurricane is going through a rapid intensification phase.
As a whole, lightning does occur in some powerful hurricanes, and it’s likely a sign that the hurricane is growing stronger and stronger.
Hopefully, this post has been helpful and given you an insight into why some hurricanes have lightning.
Thanks for taking the time to read this post and feel free to stick around and learn more about extreme weather and natural phenomenon.
Hey, I’m Sam – the founder of GustyPlanet. I’ve had a fascination with all things weather for as long as I can remember. I witnessed my first tornado at the age of 6, and since then became an avid storm chaser that is hooked on learning as much as I can about extreme weather. This blog was created to share my knowledge and to expand and delve deeper into the wonderful world of weather phenomena. I hope you enjoy your stay here and thanks for visiting.