Dirty thunderstorm

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Volcanic lightning above an eruption of Mount Rinjani.

A dirty thunderstorm (also, Volcanic lightning) is a weather phenomenon that is related to the production of lightning in a volcanic plume.[1]

A famous image of the phenomenon was photographed by Carlos Gutierrez and occurred in Chile above the Chaiten Volcano.[2] It circulated widely on the internet.

Other instances have been reported above Alaska's Mount Augustine volcano,[3] Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull volcano[4] and Mount Etna in Sicily, Italy.[5]


A study in the journal Science indicated that electrical charges are generated when rock fragments, ash, and ice particles in a volcanic plume collide and produce static charges, just as ice particles collide in regular thunderstorms.[6]

As the plume started going downwind, it seemed to have a life of its own and produced some 300 more or less normal [lightning bolts] ... The implication is that it has produced more charge than it started with. Otherwise [the plume] couldn't continue to make lightning.

Martin A. Uman, co-director of the University of Florida Lightning Research program

Volcanic eruptions also release large amounts of water, which may help fuel these thunderstorms.


  1. ^ Simons, Paul (May 8, 2008). "Dirty thunderstorm shoots lightning from volcano". London: Times Online. Retrieved 2009-01-09. 
  2. ^ "Chile Volcano Erupts with Ash and Lightning". National Geographic. May 6, 2008. Retrieved 2009-01-09. 
  3. ^ Handwerk, Brian (February 22, 2007). "Volcanic Lightning Sparked by "Dirty Thunderstorms"". National Geographic. Retrieved 2009-01-09. 
  4. ^ "Iceland Volcano Pictures: Lightning Adds Flash to Ash". National Geographic. April 19, 2010. Retrieved 2010-04-20. 
  5. ^ editor, Ian Sample Science. "Sky lights up over Sicily as Mount Etna's Voragine crater erupts". the Guardian. Retrieved 2015-12-03. 
  6. ^ Perkins, Sid (March 4, 2015). "Flash glass: Lightning inside volcanic ash plumes create glassy spherules". American Association for the Advancement of Science. 

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