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LOOK: Rare Lightning Sprites Illuminate The Sky Over Hurricane Matthew

Oct 04, 2016 04:55 AM EDT

As hurricane Matthew raged in north of Colombia, rare lightning sprites exploded like captivating fireworks display just above the heaps of thunderstorm clouds.

While lightning struck the Caribbean Seas during the storm -- the regular kind that we could be seen zig-zagging to the ground -- there are also lighting strikes that occur in the upper atmosphere, above the thunderstorm clouds. These lightning strikes are called sprites.

A video showed the reddish sprites dancing high above Hurricane Matthew near Aruba and Colombia, lighting up and electrifying the skies for hundreds of miles around Matthew's eyewall and eastern feederbands. The video was captured from Puerto Rico some 400 miles away.

According to the American Meteorological Society, sprites are weak bursts of energy that are released directly above an active thunderstorm and are coincident with cloud-to-ground or intracloud lightning below, extending from the cloud tops to about 95 km. They either appear as single or multiple vertically elongated spots or in clusters of bright wispy structures above the clouds. Lightning sprites are typically red in color with blue-colored stems extending downward. They only last for a few millisecond, which is what the whimsical nickname implies, and these events are extremely rare and difficult to photograph.

Earlier research studies about lightning sprites referred to them with a variety of names, such as upward lightning, upward discharges, cloud-to-stratosphere discharges, and cloud-to-ionosphere discharges.

Sprites show up during "decaying portions of thunderstorms and are correlated with large positive cloud-to-ground flashes. According to weather.com, the 28 sprites, which were captured during the late evening and early morning hours of Sept. 30 to Oct. 1, appeared above Hurricane Matthew just as it was in the process of intensifying, and then later (midmorning of Oct. 1), the hurricane ended its rapid intensification and clouds had begun to decay.

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