Red Lightning

Mike Hollingshead

I found a decent spot around here to shoot some local lightning storms. No idea why I never tried this before. I'd post it in reports but it's really not a chase. Does anyone have an idea what causes some bolts to be quite red? It doesn't appear to have anything to do with the ISO used. I assume it is a just where they are located in regards to precip or haze. I guess it is possible it's just a white balance thing with some. I can say for certain though some of the bolts this night were visibly very red, especially one I saw very early on way off in the distance.

06-7-25-7226.jpg


Some other's weren't nearly as red....
06-7-25-7200.jpg


There are several more examples here: http://www.extremeinstability.com/06-7-25.htm

If you have any cool red bolts please post them.

Mike
 
I was actually out last night as well capturing some lightning and the bolts that I were getting were red as well! It must be do to something with the air, I know I really hadn't seen it before. None of the pictures came out too well as I didn't travel to actually get nearby them... I'll see if there are one or two though that aren't terrible.
 
Yeah I clearly remember seeing the first one on the horizon to the east and noticing how it appeard stop sign red. I can't recall ever seeing a bolt that red in the past. The sunset last night was pretty much the exact same color...the sun itself.

Here is an idea of how moist the air was in the area.

0z OMAHA Sounding

I now wish I had my white balance on manual and not auto so I could judge from image to image. The treeline never seems that off in color, but does seem more muted on some(but could be from some of the desaturating done to some). One with the more orange bolts does have a more red treeline, which would argue against it being all color balance making it red. I have a very neutral treeline with a more red bolt as well. Nice to know someone else was out there.
 
Distant lightning appears red or orange the same way the setting sun does, due to moisture, haze, dust, etc in the lower levels of the atmosphere. Light emitted by lightning has a similar visible spectrum as sunlight (white light), so the atmosphere should shift the colors of both the same way - given there is enough distance between the lightning and the observer.
 
First and foremost Mike, as always, excellent photos. Detail is very crisp and love the eerie red hues!

The visible color of lightning that is perceived by our eyes and camera equipment is determined by the visible light given off by the lightning itself, as well as any obstructions that occur between the lightning and the observer.

Red lightning is common with distant lightning that is closer to the horizon. The red shift is generated by the concentration of haze, dust and other pollutants that stagnate in the boundary layer between you and the lightning. I can remember back in the summer of 2003 there was an enormous supercell over 200 miles away in NE KS one night. The tops were so tall that, with a cloud free view to the NW, we could see it all the way from Springfield. Amazingly we were able to see the lightning at this incredible distance, right on the horizon and the anvil bolts were just blood red, much darker than even your first picture. The reason for the lightning in this case is much the same reasoning behind the rusted color of a full moon or the sun when it approaches or breaks the horizon.

As I alluded to earlier, lightning in close proximity can also take on many different colors...white, blue, purple, pink and even green. Remember that to us, lightning is essentially the visible light given off by an atmospheric discharge heating an air column to tens of thousands of degrees. If you remember back to high school Chemistry class, most teachers try to wow the students by burning different chemical compounds on a bunsen burner, giving off brilliant colors. Much in the same way how fireworks give off their colors, when the atmosphere contains an abundance of a particular gas, the lightning channel will give off visible light that favors the expected burn color for that gas. You can actually use lightning color to determine what the atmospheric properties are.

For example, winter time thunderstorms almost always occur in a very clean/pristine boundary layer...so the colors are often vivid whites/blues. In stagnant summertime airmasses where ozone concentrations can be excessive, rare green lightning displays can sometimes be observed.

Hope this helps!
Evan
 
Hello!
Since we are on the subject, I hope no one minds me "piggy backing" another question....
what if the lightning were to change colors during the strike?
Initital bolt strike was blue and it transititioned to a red or orange color after about 2-3 seconds. Like looking through a kalidoscope.
There were about 6 bolts that did this so it was not a transformer strike or any other man made interference.
I understand the unique colors of lightning bolts, but don't know the reason for the change in colors during the strike.
Thanks for your time.
Laura
 
what if the lightning were to change colors during the strike? Initital bolt strike was blue and it transititioned to a red or orange color after about 2-3 seconds. Like looking through a kalidoscope. There were about 6 bolts that did this so it was not a transformer strike or any other man made interference.[/b]

Those do sound like power line strikes/flashovers - it isn't uncommon for there to be a lot of those, especially in urban areas. I've seen storms where nearly bolt after bolt caused a flashover and the characteristic blue/green/orange/red arc/fireball at the ground, either during or after the strike. Power line arcs can be on the order of tens of thousands of amps and can be just as bright as lightning.
 
Thanks for the answers and thoughts. I figured it would have to be mostly that since the sunset does a similar thing and was almost the exact same color on this day.
 
Sand will do that too. If there was any sand or dust in the air the result is red clouds, or if the lightning is far away, red lightning too. Maybe there were some farm fields with topsoil blowing into the atmosphere, or a brush fire sending smoke into the air.

June lightning with sand in the air:
StromFireRidge.jpg


Central Deserts lightning with sand and dust:
LLMaricopa.jpg


Tower with sand in air:
StromTower.jpg


American Flag with super-sandy air:
LLAmericanFlag.jpg


Usually the shots early in the evening are the sandy, dusty ones with wine tones. A t-storm collapsed somewhere, the outflow picked up sand and dust, the sand wall passes and makes all my storms red, then the rain comes, washes the air clean and then I get clear blue shots. The later in the eve, the less red usually occurs. Generally, anyway, there are certainly exceptions.
 
So Mike, did the bolts actually LOOK red to you when you saw them, or were they just recorded red, on your camera..? Cameras, and white balance have a lot to do with this..
 
Hello!
Since we are on the subject, I hope no one minds me "piggy backing" another question....
what if the lightning were to change colors during the strike?
Initital bolt strike was blue and it transititioned to a red or orange color after about 2-3 seconds. Like looking through a kalidoscope.
There were about 6 bolts that did this so it was not a transformer strike or any other man made interference.
I understand the unique colors of lightning bolts, but don't know the reason for the change in colors during the strike.
Thanks for your time.
Laura
[/b]

That's really interesting, and makes me think I might not be as crazy as I thought. You see, I have seen something very much like this, except in my case the lightning bolt started out as red and ended a deep blue-green. It really did seem to go through all the colors of the spectrum as I watched. This happened during a nor'easter that was undergoing a change from heavy rain to snow, and the multi-colored bolt happened right about at the moment of transition. I have always assumed the colors were some weird optical effect caused by the raindrops suddenly freezing into ice crystals, but really I have no idea what the mechanism was. It was an incredible thing to see, and undoubtably one of the most bizarre weather experiences I've ever had. There was only the one colored bolt, though, and I've often wondered if it really did happen exactly the way I remember it. Your post gives me hope that it did! "Like looking through a kaleidoscope" - yes, very much so. I wonder if we both were observing the same phenomena? There is so much about lightning that is still a mystery.
 
A light source that is changing from blue-green/turquoise/red/orange is a high-intensity arc from a faulting (shorting out) power line. The red and orange colors come from the white-hot arc burning adjacent material (transformer oil, tree branches, telephone pole wood).

Lightning strikes often trigger these faults, called 'flashovers', when the lightning channel hits a power line, jumps to ground and itself becomes a short circuit for power line current that lingers during and after the lightning is over.

Power line faults are common in storms, triggered by wind damage or the aforementioned lightning-caused flashovers. The arcs are extremely intense and destructive to power equipment, poles and transformers, and can illuminate the sky for miles away from the origin point. They can be as bright as the lightning flash that triggered them, the colors often blending in with the flickering return strokes of lightning strike in progress (particularly the lower half of the visible channel).
 
So Mike, did the bolts actually LOOK red to you when you saw them, or were they just recorded red, on your camera..? Cameras, and white balance have a lot to do with this..
[/b]

I can say for certain though some of the bolts this night were visibly very red, especially one I saw very early on way off in the distance.[/b]

Yes they LOOKED red. The more distant or in the rain ones were the most red.

As far as white balance is concerned I found this out. These next two images have the same color temp/white balance in the raw conversion.

06-7-25-7200.jpg


06-7-25-7206.jpg


With RAW I don't think it matters what you shot them as if you change the temp/white balance in the conversion. I click on white balance and then color temp in the conversion and with that set the same they look like the above....one with much more red bolts--same balance setting.

And in this one the third bolt from the left appears the more orange color while the other three are more red:
06-7-25-7217.jpg


The other thing is that the treeline along the river never seems like it's that far off at all. Some are more saturated and brighter with the differing exposure lengths. The ones with the brighter, more red bushes in the bottom left do have a light illuminating them a bit more than the others as well.
 
I dug through some video and found the following clips.

This is short WMV (157KB) of a distant CG strike causing a flashover on a power line. This bolt was about 6 miles away, very distant - so this clip is zoomed in somewhat (hence the grain). You can see the arcing begins during the strike and lingers for a short time after the lightning is over:

http://wvlightning.com/2006/flashover1.wmv

This is a short WMV clip (334KB) of a multi-colored power flash during Hurricane Frances in Florida. Note that the color starts orange, changes to bluish-turquoise, then changes back to orange. This power flash was about a mile away, and lit up the sky like lightning:

http://wvlightning.com/2006/francespf.wmv
 
Here is about the only decent image I captured of the lightning from that same night as Mike did... This is pretty much dead on as far as color goes. This strike was only about 20-25 miles away as it was behind this storm that was to the east of me...


DSC049352.jpg
 
There was a storm that I photographed last summer that has this same red lightning effect. As the storm got closer and eventually overhead, the lightning took on a more traditional purple hue, so my bet is on atmospheric haze scattering the blue light, like during a sunset.

Do_not_adjust_your_set_by_Bucky2K.png
 
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