The electrical field is just enhanced during thunderstorm activity surrounding you...which is why people with long hair find it standing straight up in hot humid environments in stormy weather.  Static.  

Thunderstorms have a huge electrical field, but lightning grounds only when the charge is at a maximum at that very point underneath or nearby.  Which is why they send up those copper wires attached to rockets into storms at a given moment.  They will wait until the charge is maximised and fire them up promoting a connection...akin to cheating....they will give the leaders something to target and use the copper wire as an upward leader.

Upward leaders, because they are unseen to the naked eye can be captured by still and video - moreso with high speed units naturally - but they are there.  Lightning is 'small' in comparison to the storm's size for example, no wider than 5cm or so, so it's not big and fat - that's just the optical thing of the return stroke(s) and distance.  It's the downward propogating leaders which are the fascinating thing.  Everytime you see a flash in the cloud or below these could be either one, two or hundreds of stepped leaders searching...they move in all directions, darting out, retreating, changing direction, appearing in a totally different region - all continuous, all unseen.  You'll see what I mean with this link from Tom Warner from South Dakota who recently completed his PhD in lightning physics.  He's done some incredible work with high speed filming and Martin Uman, one of the world prioneers in lightning research works closely with Tom.  Tom is an expert on upward leader lightning and films mostly between 1500-74,000 fps using Phantom cameras.

You can go through his videos in the archive menu on the lower RHS.  You will note in this video linked the thousands of leaders flickering away...this is the stuff you cannot see during the day or night...these are the things that search for something to connect with!


and from Tom's home page...a CG in high speed...you will see the leaders doing their thing...fascinating!



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