Characteristics of lightning discharges that transport either positive charge or both positive and negative charges to the ground are reviewed. These are termed positive and bipolar lightning discharges, respectively. Different types of positive and bipolar lightning are discussed. Although positive lightning discharges account for 10% or less of global cloud-to-ground lightning activity, there are five situations that appear to be conducive to the more frequent occurrence of positive lightning. These situations include 1) the dissipating stage of an individual thunderstorm, 2) winter thunderstorms, 3) trailing stratiform regions of mesoscale convective systems, 4) some severe storms, and 5) thunderclouds formed over forest fires or contaminated by smoke. The highest directly measured lightning currents (near 300 kA) and the largest charge transfers (hundreds of coulombs or more) are thought to be associated with positive lightning. Two types of impulsive positive current waveforms have been observed. One type is characterized by rise times of the order of 10 μs, comparable to those for first strokes in negative lightning, and the other type is characterized by considerably longer rise times, up to hundreds of microseconds. The latter waveforms are apparently associated with very long, 1–2 km, upward negative connecting leaders. The positive return-stroke speed is of the order of 108 m s−1. Positive flashes are usually composed of a single stroke. Positive return strokes often appear to be preceded by significant in-cloud discharge activity, then followed by continuing currents, and involve long horizontal channels. In contrast to negative leaders, which are always optically stepped when they propagate in virgin air, positive leaders seem to be able to move either continuously or in a stepped fashion. The reported percentage of bipolar flashes in summer storms ranges from 6% to 14% and from 5% to 33% in winter storms. Bipolar lightning discharges are usually initiated by upward leaders from tall objects. It appears that positive and negative charge sources in the cloud are tapped by different upward branches of the bipolar-lightning channel.
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida