Lightning Strike

Lightning is pure energy. It can be frightening and dangerous as well as one of nature's most beautiful displays of power. Lightning is usually associated with thunderstorms. Thunderstorms form as masses of warm air rise up into the atmosphere. Sometimes this activity is matched by the downward movement of heavier, colder air from the atmosphere. As this movement of air is happening, an imbalance of electrons in the clouds occurs as the air particles rub against one another creating friction. Some particles lose electrons and become positively charged (+) and other atoms gain electrons and become negatively charged (-). The exchange of electrons between charged atoms in the cloud attracts positive charges from the ground. When this attraction is strong enough, the electric charge is released in a large rush of voltage, or moving electrons, called lightning.

The electricity in your home is supplied by the same type of electron exchange, only its flow is controlled through a conductor.

Light travels faster than sound, which means you can see lightning flashes long before you hear the thunder. Count the number of seconds between a flash of lightning and the next clap of thunder, and divide that number by 5 to get an estimate of how many miles away the thunderstorm is from where you are.

Example: If you see lightning and count to 10 before you hear thunder, divide 10 by 5 to get 2. This formula will tell you that the storm is about 2 miles away.

Lightning Safety Tips

If you can hear thunder, you are in danger of being struck by lightning. Get indoors quickly! Stay away from windows and don't use electrical appliances or talk on the phone. Lightning can strike a power line and travel through it into your appliances and phones. You could get shocked and hurt.

Never stay in or around a swimming pool, lake or other body of water when lightning is nearby. Water is a conductor and so are you, which means you could get shocked. Lightning strikes can travel through the ground so the best place to be is indoors until the storm is over.

Lightning Facts

Most lightning strikes average 2 to 3 miles long and one lightning strike can generate 100 million to 1 billion volts of electricity.

Around the world, there are 50 to 100 cloud-to-ground lightning strikes each second.

How big around is a lightning bolt? About the size of a quarter or half-dollar. Lightning looks much wider than it really is because the light you see is so bright!

The temperature of a typical lightning bolt is hotter than the surface of the sun! The air within a lightning strike can reach 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit and its path can become five times hotter than the surface of the sun. The sun's surface temperature is about 11,000 degrees Fahrenheit or 6,000 degrees Celsius. That's hot!

Cloud-to-cloud lightning is called "Lightning Crawlers" or "Spider Lightning." It can travel over 35 miles as it "crawls" across the bottom or through frontal clouds. Radar has recorded lightning crawlers over 75 miles long.