Spectral (600-1050 nm) time exposures (99.6 mu s) of a lightning stepped leader Academic Article uri icon


  • A cloud-to-ground lightning stepped leader has been recorded with a slitless spectrograph at a recording rate of 10,000 images per second at a distance of 0.6 km. Five sequential images of the leader spectra were recorded with an exposure (integration) time of 99.6 s each over a spectral range from 600 to 1050 nm. These are the first stepped leader spectra covering the range 600 to 1050 nm. The last three spectra, obtained immediately before the return stroke, were analyzed at an altitude of between 108 and 122 m above a struck vehicle. The spectral emissions in the near infrared are dominated by neutral nitrogen and oxygen emissions, and H, with only a few emission lines from singly ionized nitrogen. A singly ionized nitrogen line at 661.1 nm is present in the first analyzed image, but not in the two subsequent images at the same height, which suggests a cooling of the channel. The emissions are integrated over a 99.6 s exposure time and therefore show no evidence of stepping. The ensuing negative return stroke was detected by the National Lightning Detection Network and had an estimated peak current of -15.2 kA. One subsequent stroke was outside the field of view of the spectrograph. The flash occurred on 11 September 2009 near New Underwood, South Dakota, and the exact location of the first stroke is known because it struck a car traveling on Interstate 90. The stepped leader two-dimensional speed increased in the last four steps from 1.53 10 5 to 2.42 105 m/s with an average of 2.03 105 m/s. Copyright 2011 by the American Geophysical Union.

published proceedings


author list (cited authors)

  • Warner, T. A., Orville, R. E., Marshall, J. L., & Huggins, K.

citation count

  • 32

complete list of authors

  • Warner, Tom A||Orville, Richard E||Marshall, JL||Huggins, Kyle

publication date

  • January 2011