All lightning is essentially the same – a channel of ionized air carrying electrical current between two differing areas of charge. It is the polarity of lightning discharge that can affect the way it spreads and branches. It is this, as well as its starting and ending points, and direction of movement, that can cause different types of lightning
1. Ground Current Lightning
The most common strike is ground current lightning, which causes nearly half of all lightning injuries. When lightning strikes the ground, it creates a current that travels through the ground and through your body. If you are standing with your feet together, it will travel up one leg and out the other. If you are lying prone or standing with your feet apart, the current will take longer to move through your body, increasing the damage.
2. Side Flash Lightning
A less common lightning strike is the side flash strike in which lightning hits a taller object like a tree and some of the current jumps to the person who was standing next to the tree. Moving 50 to 100-feet away from the tree decreases the likelihood of this strike. Conduction lightning occurs when a person is in contact with any metal object such as wiring or fencing that can conduct electricity. Though more common inside than outside, a conduction strike can occur inside tents and near fencing.
3. Direct Strike Lightning
The most devastating strike is the direct strike in which a person is hit directly with the bolt of lightning. In this strike, a portion of the current travels over the skin leaving a mark called a flash over while the remaining current travels through the body. A direct strike can cause extensive damage and is sometimes fatal.
4. Streamers Lightning
A similar and less predictable strike is a streamer which is an offshoot of a lightning bolt that forms as the main bolt approaches the ground. These streamers can strike far away from the original lightning strike. Though they are less powerful than the main bolt, streamers can still cause injury and death.