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No. 89: Sep-Oct 1993

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Looping Lightning

March 17, 1992. Delta Flight 1083 en route from Pittsburgh to Atlanta. At approximately 8:30 PM, this flight was thought to be flying safely high above thundercloud tops, which were situated at 20,000-22,000 feet. The pilot, W.F. Blanchard describes what he observed:

"Then, from one of these clouds, a lightning bolt appeared that changed my mind instantly. This bolt came from the top of the buildup closest to our line of flight and formed an enormous loop in the sky. It started at the top of the cloud and went well above our altitude (to at least 40,00045,000 ft.) and then circled back down into the cloud. My impression is that it joined back into itself at the top of the cloud, but it may have returned to another of the peaks in the same cloud."

(Grynkewich, N.E., Jr.; "Lightning Loop," Weather, 47:493, 1992.)

Comment. There have been numerous recent reports of upwardly directed "rocket" lightning, but none in which the lightning returned back to the same cloud. Grynkewich may have seen some bizarre form of intercloud lightning.

Reference. Unusual and anomalous forms of lightning are cataloged in section GLL in our catalog: Lighting, Auroras. Details here.

From Science Frontiers #89, SEP-OCT 1993. 1993-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987