Rare ‘sprite lightning’ seen over Tropical Storm Nicole

Rare ‘sprite lightning’ seen over Tropical Storm Nicole

As Tropical Storm Nicole moved toward Florida this week, some of its clouds went as far south as Puerto Rico.

There, a photographer captured an elusive and strange phenomenon known as “sprite lightning”.

Photographer Frankie Lucena posted a video on Twitter of a bolt of energy pulsing over some clouds around Puerto Rico overnight between Monday and Tuesday.

Sprite lightning, also known as “red lightning” because of its reddish hue, is formed from pent-up electricity in clouds shooting vertically, reports Space.com.

The video shows a small burst of lightning appearing briefly over the bottom-left corner of the screen before fading away.

Mr Lucena said on Twitter that the footage was captured a little after midnight on Monday night as the outer edges of Nicole’s storm clouds brushed past Puerto Rico.

In 2013, a sprite lightning researcher told Smithsonian that the top of sprite lightning formations can reach 100 kilometres (62 miles) high, or more, and last just fractions of a second.

Sprite lightning, the reddish streaks on the right, as seen over a thunderstorm in Arizona. The phenomenon was also seen this week around the outer edges of Tropical Storm Nicole (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Sprite lightning, the reddish streaks on the right, as seen over a thunderstorm in Arizona. The phenomenon was also seen this week around the outer edges of Tropical Storm Nicole (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Nasa says that the phenomenon, which can occur over thunderstorms, was first photographed in 1989. But scientists still don’t know much about why or how these mysterious and beautiful flashes of light form, the agency says.

Nicole hit Florida this week as a Category 1 hurricane, leaving at least five people dead, according to CNN. Storm surge pushed waters up to six feet (1.8 metres) along the shore, and dozens of beachside homes in Volusia County have been deemed unsafe, the network reports.

It was a rare late-in-the-season storm, forming at the tail end of the Atlantic Hurricane season, which lasts from June through November.

Nicole was a particularly large storm, spanning hundreds of miles, allowing the outer edges to touch Puerto Rico even as the storm made landfall much further north in Florida.

The remnants of the storm are now passing along the US Atlantic coast, drenching communities from Georgia through New England.