Weather Whys June 17, 2015

Courtesy Texas A&M

Q: What exactly is ball lightning?

A: Ball lightning is one of the strangest and controversial of all weather occurrences, says Brent McRoberts of Texas A&M University. “It is usually associated with thunderstorms, but unlike normal lightning, ball lightning reportedly appears as a glowing ball or orb. Ball lightning discharges energy a bit differently than common lightning, and unlike common lightning, there are reports of ball lightning lasting five to 10 seconds or even longer,” McRoberts says. “Some people believe the famous Marfa lights in West Texas are actually ball lightning, but this has never been proved.”

Q: Does ball lightning happen frequently? 
A: Not at all, and sightings of ball lightning are rare and often met with skepticism, McRoberts adds. “There appear to be few if any photographs of ball lightning,” he notes. “People claiming to have seen ball lightning report that it appears to float in the air for several seconds, and colors can range from white to red, orange or yellow and it can be oval, rod-like or even teardrop in shape. There have been attempts to create ball lightning in a laboratory, but with not much success. Because of its shape and the way it tends to float in the air, many people have mistaken ball lightning for UFOs, which only adds to the mystery of this rare weather phenomenon.”