Lightning and Miss Liberty

One hundred million volts, more or less. That is the potential that is developed as roiling masses of air and water and ice molecules furiously swap electrons during a thunderstorm. Charge separation, caused by the friction in the air, related to the mechanism of static built up by rubbing balloon on cat, fills the atmosphere with pockets of ions–positive and negative. As the voltages build, the normally-insulating air molecules stress and disassociate and filaments of current crackle across the sky, releasing mega-joules of energy in each stroke. The supersonic expansion of the ionized air along the stroke path, boiled to a plasma, cracks in a sonic boom, rolling across the sky as thunder.