Upside-down lightning?! Experts break down ‘insane' viral video

·3 min read

The sight of lightning forking from the clouds to the ground is frightening enough. But flip that upside down? That's the perfect recipe for some terrifying footage, well worth going viral.

On Tuesday night, video footage of such a display emanated from Wichita, Kansas, capturing what resident Taylor Vonfeldt called "the most insane strike of lightning I've ever caught on camera."

Lightning expert Chris Vagasky of Vaisala told AccuWeather he agreed with Vonfeldt's reaction.

"It was a really impressive display of what we call lightning-triggered upward lightning," Vagasky said, before later adding, "To see one like this was a little bit surprising."

According to AccuWeather Senior Weather Editor Jesse Ferrell, the flashes are also called "ground to cloud" lightning strikes.

"They are initiated at the top of an object, most often a man-made building or communications tower," he said. "While they are the minority of lightning strikes, they can be brilliant and occur well after the storm, outside of heavy rain, allowing us to capture them with clarity."

The flashes captured in Vonfeldt's video were certainly brilliant indeed. The clip begins with his camera set to slow-motion, fixated on the skies above his residential neighborhood.

Then, like crawling electric fingers climbing out of the earth, bright forks of lightning slithered toward the sky, lighting up the night.

"To see one like this was a little bit surprising," Vagasky said. "They're not usually so big and expansive."

Vagasky said this wasn't the first time he had seen such a display and, like Ferrell, suspected that nearby man-made structures helped produce the incredible event.

The first time Vagasky saw it in person was in Oklahoma City. There, all the local TV stations position their transmitter antennas at a nearby TV tower farm, providing the perfect area for upward leaders to put on a dazzling show.

"It helps having these tall towers around because it kind of focuses the electric field at the top of the tower," Vagasky said. "As the electric field in the cloud gets excited, having the more compact electric field right at the tip of these towers really helps generate these leaders that you need to have to see that kind of a display that we saw Tuesday night."

According to Ferrell, Wichita was hit repeatedly by thunderstorms Tuesday evening from 5 to 11 p.m. CDT, while this particular strike likely occurred after the biggest storm went through around 10 p.m.

"I think you had kind of the perfect combination of events," Vagasky said of the footage. "You had this line of storms that were moving through, so you had a big electric field that was over these towers. And then when you had a nearby lightning flash occur that caused had all of these leaders to propagate upward."

Vagasky said the meteorological field's understanding of lightning-triggered upward lightning is continuing to grow and expand as more improvements are made to lightning detection networks. It also helps to have more cameras than ever before in the public's hands to capture these events, he said.

"What was rare, until recently, was being able to film strikes in slow motion, where you can see the details as the lightning branches out on its way up -- something that is too fast for the naked eye to see," Ferrell said.

While dazzling, Vagasky made sure to also mention that these lightning events are still dangerous. Anytime there is lightning in the area, individuals need to be in a lightning-safe area such as an enclosed metal vehicle or a substantial building like a house or a store.

Viewing online, such as on Twitter or AccuWeather.com, however, is always a safe bet as well. Extreme Meteorologist Reed Timmer's expression certainly captured the general public's response.

"Good heavens me," he tweeted.

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