Bolts from the blue

When stormy weather comes to Hong Kong, sparks fly. The open ocean air that surrounds the city, and its location along the turbulent South China Sea, can make lightning here a dramatic affair. With data from the Hong Kong Observatory, here’s a look some of 2016’s biggest storms so far

Recent Storms

On July 9 from 9pm to 9.55pm, the Hong Kong night sky was illuminated by more than 5,130 lightning strikes — one of the most prolific displays of lightning in the year. Here’s where the strikes landed

On August 9 from 11am to 2pm, a storm swept through Hong Kong and set off 6,498 strikes. Here’s where they landed

Displaying on map

Strike frequencies

These storms together accounted for more than 11,000 strikes in four hours — and that’s just two storms in the year. Check out the strike concentration peaks of each storm below, and see how frequently they overlapped with flight paths in and out of Hong Kong International Airport


If lightning strikes an aircraft, the structure of the plane conducts the energy through the aircraft and back into the air. There are many systems to prevent electrical system failures that may occur, but pilots always seek to avoid lightning

July 9, 2016, accumulated activity over Hong Kong appears lighter


On August 9, the lightning activity was less concentrated than in during the July storm, but the eastern routes to the airport crossed very close to the most intense lightning zone

August 9, 2016, accumulated activity over Hong Kong in white

Types of lightning

When people think of lightning, the image that springs to mind is the dramatic cloud to ground strike. Actually, there are three types of lightning originating from various altitudes of the atmosphere: cloud to air, cloud to cloud, and cloud to ground. Here’s an overview



Sprites are large electrical discharges triggered by the positively charged top of thunder clouds, high above what we can observe from the ground. Unlike the lightning we see from the surface, sprites disperse in varied visual shapes and flickers


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How a lightning strike occurs

During storms, pockets of positive and negative charges build up in the clouds (and between the clouds and the ground), but neutral air between the charges keeps them isolated

Surface viewable lightning


The most common type of discharge - lightning inside a single storm cloud, jumping between different charge regions in the cloud

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