TLE…transient luminous event captured on video from a thunderstorm

Guest essay by Mike Alger, Chief Meteorologist,KTVN-TV,Reno, NV
Here’s something you don’t see every day. Flying a mission for the Air Force, Capt. Ryan McGuire started rolling some video (I believe with an iPhone through night vision goggles) of a very active thunderstorm cell somewhere over the Indian Ocean. Hoping to just catch some of the regular lightning (which is seen in abundance), he caught a very rare instance of a “Gigantic Jet.” A Gigantic Jet is a type of upper atmospheric lightning (also called a TLE…transient luminous event) which discharges from the tops of very strong thunderstorms from the stratosphere all the way into the ionosphere. Gigantic Jets can be over 40 miles in length.

Watch the top right left of the video to see the jet:

Capt. McGuire shared the video with fellow Capt. Clark Beesemyer. Curious as to what the upward shooting streak was, Capt. Beesemyer sent the video to my co-anchor Arianna Bennett, and asked her to show it to her station’s meteorologist (yours truly.) I was thrilled to get such a rare glimpse of an incredibly cool phenomenon.


0 0 votes
Article Rating
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
November 12, 2014 6:16 pm

Shouldn’t that have been the upper left of the video?

Mike Alger
Reply to  greymouser70
November 13, 2014 2:05 am

Yes…I meant to say upper left…perhaps the mods can edit that for me. Thanks for catching that.
[Reply: Edit added to correct to ‘left’. -ModE ]

M Courtney
Reply to  Mike Alger
November 13, 2014 3:34 am

Well, I suppose it is upper right from your side of the screen.

Reply to  Mike Alger
November 13, 2014 10:50 am

Good on ya, Mike. We love you (and Arianna, too) here in Reno . Keep speaking the truth.

November 12, 2014 6:17 pm

Top left? or does the video get reversed in the southern hemisphere 🙂

November 12, 2014 6:26 pm

It’s the other right …

November 12, 2014 7:04 pm

Here are some colour images

November 12, 2014 7:05 pm

These jets were regularly pooh-poohed by establishment scientists as anecdotal (reported by pilots) because they had no theory to account for them. Only when photos captured them were they acknowledged.

Kelvin Vaughan
Reply to  rogerknights
November 13, 2014 2:13 am

Most Scientists are just super memories. The actual program that runs their thinking is very basic. (Forgive the pun.)

Reply to  Kelvin Vaughan
November 13, 2014 11:55 am

That wasn’t a pun.

Les Francis
Reply to  rogerknights
November 13, 2014 3:46 am

Another term for that particular T.L.E. is “Sprite”
There are also other types – e.g. – “Elves” or singularly Elf.

Reply to  Les Francis
November 13, 2014 12:10 pm

Actually, a sprite is another type of TLE. They occur far above the tops of the thunderstorms, but don’t originate from the cloud tops themselves. Gigantic Jets (along with blue jets and other types of jets) originate from the cloud top. That’s what this example does.

November 12, 2014 7:13 pm

Here’s one created in the kitchen

November 12, 2014 7:29 pm

I am not sure how rare these occurrences are. I am sure that is what my mother used to call that “sheet lightning”

Reply to  cnxtim
November 12, 2014 10:41 pm

No, I think sheet lightening is just a broad flash of lighting up the sky from distant lightening which is too far away to see its individual paths.

Stephen Richards
Reply to  cnxtim
November 13, 2014 1:23 am

Sheet lightening is cloud to cloud. This jet is invisible from the ground and is cloud to space.

Reply to  Stephen Richards
November 13, 2014 8:16 am

Sheet lighning is obscured by cloud, so the entire region lights up.

November 12, 2014 7:30 pm
Reply to  jmorpuss
November 13, 2014 4:09 am

Absolutely…caused by CO2

Winnipeg Boy
Reply to  mikerestin
November 13, 2014 7:13 am

Not CO2,Methane. Geez. These are Unicorn farts. 97% of Leprechans agree.

November 12, 2014 8:25 pm

Wow you really have friends in high places. (: Thanks for the view of a TLE.

Mike McMillan
November 12, 2014 10:15 pm

Nice catch. It looks like it travels much more slowly than the lightning strokes.

Phil B.
November 13, 2014 12:54 am

It’s AME (atmospheric mass ejection) from our electrically active “earth-spots” (otherwise known as thunderstorms).

Reply to  Phil B.
November 13, 2014 2:24 am

Hey, I like that, Phil B. Much better than TLE.
A Transient Luminous Event could be anything: perhaps the rare time the light bulb goes on over my head; maybe when I briefly turn on the porch light at night to let the dogs out; how about that TLE when you open the refrigerator door. Your AME is much more descriptive.

November 13, 2014 2:09 am

However, due to global warming, we are now going to see more of them, with greater intensity.
Or is it fewer of them, with lesser intensity.
No; they’re going to cause the oceans to rise.
My God! Think of the children!

Reply to  William
November 13, 2014 4:11 am

Don’t forget the acid.
I mean the ocean getting more acidic.

Reply to  mikerestin
November 13, 2014 7:14 am

Glad you added the second line… I’d rather forget my experiment with acid.

November 13, 2014 3:21 am

I have carried out night flights across the Indian Ocean and the lightning is intense and the Cb very dangerous to fly into. These Cb can build to over 65000ft there is so much energy in them.

Reply to  johnmarshall
November 13, 2014 4:29 am

Can I assume that Cb = a particular type of cloud? Just curious..thanks

Reply to  Liz
November 13, 2014 6:09 am

Cb == Cumulonimbus. I.e. thunderstorm.

Reply to  johnmarshall
November 13, 2014 8:20 am

And if the CBs don’t get you, the crosswinds will.

Reply to  johnmarshall
November 13, 2014 9:48 am

My dad worked on RAF met research flights looking to study the weather between Ceylon and Singapore sometime between 1946 and 1949, when they were looking to open up a direct trans-ocean air route.
They couldn’t fly over northern Sumatra, so had to fly all the way up the Malacca Strait, before turning west to Ceylon. He told me that the thunderstorms just rolled down off Malaysia and Sumatra at night, and the flights were terrifying until they were well past Kuala Lumpur and further from land.
I’ll have to ask him if he ever saw a sprite.

November 13, 2014 4:31 am

Was it a TLE or Gaia’s anger at the plane’s emissions? Lol.

November 13, 2014 7:46 am

Thanks, Mike Alger. Wow! What a nice view!

November 13, 2014 8:19 am

Normally called a Sprite. And when viewed in colour, they are normally reddish.
I like the slow-mo action of its genesis and termination. It is obviously not a simple ionospheric equivalent of a lightning strike.

Mike Alger
Reply to  ralfellis
November 13, 2014 12:05 pm

Actually, a sprite is another type of TLE. They occur far above the tops of the thunderstorms, but don’t originate from the cloud tops themselves. Gigantic Jets (along with blue jets and other types of jets) originate from the cloud top. That’s what this example does.

November 13, 2014 9:12 am

If a sprite involve a fast upward movement of mass (air) — as implied by a comment above and the video — does anyone have an estimate of how much mass? It could be one heck of a convection current in that case (with a significant venting of heat from the earth to space).
Even without much mass, the electrical energy appears to be going somewhere, “out of this world”. How much energy is in one of these sprites?

Mike Alger
Reply to  thinair
November 13, 2014 4:17 pm

Again, it’s not a sprite (see above), but in answer to your question, the only relationship to upward movement of air is how said upward movement of air creates the electrical potential, which is the root cause of these events. The Jet shooting upward (a discharge of electrical current) isn’t a physical transport of mass upward any more than a regular lightning bolt is a physical transport of mass between cloud and ground.

November 13, 2014 12:31 pm

The missing heat!

November 13, 2014 4:19 pm

This phenomena are well documented, but not understood…

Reply to  Yirgach
November 13, 2014 4:34 pm

Should file this under – Charles Fort – research becomes real…

November 15, 2014 11:58 am

A credible pilot acquaintance of mine says he has seen many red ones while flying airliners high.
I presume they’d be seen over the mid-Atlantic as well, where thunderstoms go high.

November 18, 2014 12:26 pm

These events are not rare, have been captured from the space station and shuttle missions and are well documented. I am surprised by the lack of credible comments on this thread, considering the weight I place on comments on the rest of the threads. It is a bit like being disappointed by media reports on subjects that I have intrinsic knowledge of!

%d bloggers like this: