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Thread: Color-Shifting Lightning

  1. #1 Color-Shifting Lightning 
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    Last night I had a strange experience. In Plano, TX, there was a big thunderstorm. Everyone in my house was woken up by a loud humming noise. When it woke me up, I looked at my window, which was covered by a window shade. Through I could see light from the lightning flashes, but the strange thing was the light was cycling through color changes at a rather rapid rate, 2 or 3 colors per second. And not just normal lightning colors that are fairly close to white. I mean vivid shades of red, blue, green, and in between. I rushed to my window and looked out to see if I could find the source, but the whole sky seemed to be affected.

    The theory I have right now is that the hum we heard was a tornado passing overhead. The cyclone would probably have been filled with rain, which acted like a prism. The rotation might have caused the colors to cycle like they did.

    I've emailed the lead meteorological scientist at OU, the center of tornado alley. When/If she replies, I'll post it here.

    Has anyone else seen or heard of this phenomenon? Any other theories? (barring an alien spacecraft, haha.)


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  3. #2  
    Forum Professor Pendragon's Avatar
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    Wow that must've been quite impressive!

    There are two things that come to my mind. Firstly broken powerlines can create very strange colours, so if a powerline was damaged during the thunder storm that might explain it. Secondly there's the 'ball lightning' phenomenon. A ball lightning would explain why the light wasn't just a flash but rather a shifting colour (unless I misinterpret your post), they can be several meters wide so seen from behind a shaded window they may seem to fill the entire sky. If it was in fact a ball lightning then you've witnessed a rare phenomenon that's still not completely understood by science.


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  4. #3  
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    Powerlines or a fried transformer was actually the first thing I thought of, but as it turns out there's no above ground power in that neighborhood.

    I suppose the ball lightning is a possibility, but I haven't heard of it shifting colors in such a way. And I actually moved the shade and looked out the window seeing a large portion of the sky. Then again, I was also pretty groggy, haha.

    It was indeed quite a sight, though.
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  5. #4  
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    When a lightning strike occurs, you get a number of what are known as 'step/stepped leaders', which are paths of ionised air descending from the cloud towards the ground. When one makes contact with the ground, a lightning conductor etc, you get the 'return stroke' which is the main lightning strike, and all the other failed step leaders die off. If I recall, the step leaders can be accompanied by a glow and a hum, so maybe when you thought the whole sky was lit up, it was actually just the area immediately round your house. I don't have a clue about the changing colours though.
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  6. #5  
    Forum Professor sunshinewarrior's Avatar
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    Is there any chance the changing colours were linked more to your visual perceptual systems - partly based on after-images from really bright lights to a dark adapted eye at a time when you're feeling a touch groggy?
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  7. #6  
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    I don't think so... it definitely was just dark between flashes, and I wasn't seeing the lightning directly, just light from it through a curtain and then through the clouds, so I wouldn't think it would leave afterimages. Also, afterimages would move with your eyes since their on your retinas, and that didn't happen.
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