Reach for the Sky: Footage Shows Lightning that Strikes Upwards

There’s nothing better than watching something fast slowed down to speeds our human brains can comprehend.

The latest example is footage out of Brazil, wherein a camera that captures 40,000 frames per second snagged an impressive lightning strike over São José dos Campos.

Footage shows positively charged upward leaders (a kind of lightning bolt) reaching out from the city’s skyline. At the same time, a negatively charged bolt scorches downward at 320 kilometers per second to meet them.

Positively charged upward leaders mostly occur on mountaintops, buildings, and other tall objects.


Marcelo M. F. Saba, a researcher at Brazil’s National Space Research Institute (INPE), captured the footage along with grad student Diego Rhamon R. da Silva. The two published the video and their analysis in the Dec. 2022 issue of Geophysical Research Letters.

And although there were 30 lightning rods in the area, the bolt ultimately struck a smokestack on top of one of the buildings. In the video, the downward bolt hits the chimney, while the upward bolts emerge from lightning rods and “tall objects on other buildings.”

“A flaw in the installation left the area unprotected,” Saba said in a press release. “The impact of a 30,000-amp discharge did enormous damage.”

The footage serves as a reminder that lightning will always take the easiest course. If your lightning rods aren’t properly installed, thunderbolts will find a better way.

As for Saba and his team, they are mostly concerned with analyzing space stems — a rarely sighted “luminous formation that is about 2m long and detached from the main channel [of the upward leaders] by about 4m.”

But the wonderful thing about this slow-motion footage is that you can watch it and be amazed without a physics degree.

I’ll leave you to it!

Andrew Marshall

Andrew Marshall is an award-winning painter, photographer, and freelance writer. Andrew’s essays, illustrations, photographs, and poems can be found scattered across the web and in a variety of extremely low-paying literary journals.
You can find more of his work at, @andrewmarshallimages on Instagram and Facebook, and @pawn_andrew on Twitter (for as long as that lasts).