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What causes the different color of lightning?

Thursday's lightning show prompts questions

Photo: Drew Shearer/NOVA Storm Chasing
Photo: Drew Shearer/NOVA Storm Chasing

ROANOKE, Va. – While we were tracking storms Thursday, our co-workers here at 10 News were so impressed with the amount and the intensity of the lightning. Lightning strikes of all different shapes, brightness and colors lit up the sky one-by-one. 

This brought up a question, "Why are lightning strikes different colors?" 

This oftentimes has to do with how far away or close you are to the lightning strike.

When lightning strikes, different particles will scatter this light and cause the strike to appear as blue, pink, purple, white or even a brown-ish tint. You'll sometimes see more pinks or greens during snowstorms, as snowflakes tend to bend the light more.

Strikes that are closer to you will most likely appear white, because there's less atmosphere to pass through before the light reaches your eyes.

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Photo: Katie Ferguson - Callaway

Elements in the air, such as nitrogen or oxygen, can cause the lightning flash to take on a different color like pink or blue. We saw plenty of pink strikes Thursday evening.


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