Eerie Weather Effect St. Elmo's Fire Captured on Camera From C-17 Cockpit

The ionized air of St. Elmo's Fire poses no real danger but looks creepy from this RAF C-17 cockpit.
Chris Young
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Typically viewed as a good omen for sea expeditions, the St. Elmo's weather phenomenon can feel like a portal to hell.

Planes flying through the stormy Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) often see the eerie weather phenomenon through the cockpit window, but now we can sit behind the controls and watch it unfurl thanks to the short video from a C-17 Globemaster III — shared in a tweet from the UK Royal Air Force's (RAF's) 99 Squadron.


Lightning flashes scatter around RAF C-17 cockpit

While St. Elmo's Fire is known to occur around the nose cones of planes flying near storms, it can appear on the tip of any pointed structure — including the mast of a ship.

Named after the Christian patron saint of sailors, the phenomenon happens when the electrical field around a pointed object is charged to a critical point, and ionizes the surrounding air — turning it into plasma.

The results are ominous at night — when dark skies take on a red hue, and are often accompanied by lightning-like bursts of electricity. The entire freaky package shows up in the short clip from the Royal Air Force's 99 Squadron.

Though St. Elmo's Fire poses no danger to the C-17 crew, it's not hard to feel reminded of dystopian sci-fi imagery from movies like "Blade Runner" and "Alien" — an effect recently replicated in various cities due to factors ranging from natural phenomena to climate change and forest fires.

St. Elmo's Fire at the Intertropical Convergence Zone

The video clip was published on the 99 Squadron's official Twitter page on Oct. 5, 2020, showing a C-17 in flight through the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) at the time.

As The Drive explains, the ITCZ is a region — also known as the doldrums — that shifts depending on the season. Located near the equator, it's known for long periods without windy weather, which in times past was a serious problem for sailboats lacking other means of propulsion. This lack of wind is also known to produce extreme weather conditions and thunderstorms.

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While St. Elmo's Fire might not pose any danger to those aboard an aircraft or sea vessel, it's certainly a stunning example of the mysterious phenomena we see on Earth thanks to laws of physics at work all around use.

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