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Corona characteristics of lightning rods exposed to ambient fields due to cloud charges prior to negative leader descent are analyzed, taking into account rod slenderness and relative air density. A new formula is introduced to account for the effect such corona on upward connecting leader initiation. This quantifies the tendency of a sharp lightning rod towards self-shielding, which can be detrimental to the protection of a nearby object, particularly if this object is less susceptible to corona formation. The effect of corona due to cloud charge fields on the attractive radius of a solitary rod is also investigated. Based on discharge physics, the characteristics of a non-self shielding air terminal are then defined. Since large electrodes are susceptible to deteriorating corona performance due to protrusions and water drops, preference is given to a corona-free rod with the smallest diameter, under cloud charge fields. For tall rods or rods exposed to high ambient fields, however, the required diameter of a hemispherically capped rod may be impractical. The physical approach described in this paper satisfactorily accounts for the lightning performance of competing sharp and blunt rods in a previous field investigation.