What is a “lightning cold strike”?

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Dear Tom,
What is a “lightning cold strike.”

Robert Styles, Bolingbrook

Dear Robert,
Lightning discharges generate temperatures around 50,000 degrees, even if just for five or ten millionths of a second. A “cold strike” describes lightning of such short duration that it does not start a fire. Research was conducted several decades ago at the U.S. Forest Service’s Northern Fire Research Laboratory in Montana. The goal was to study lightning’s role in forest fires. One kind of cloud to ground lightning was identified that generated especially strong electric current for an extended period by lightning’s standards — one second or more. Such fire-initiating discharges carried a positive electrical charge (most lightning is negative) and were most likely to occur late in a thunderstorm’s life.

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