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, but there have been cases of lightning without a storm.
Thunderstorms form as masses of warm air rising 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
Lightning strikes about 25 million times a year in the United States alone! Most lightning occurs during the summer months, but lightning can strike any time of the year.
When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!
If you can hear thunder, you are in danger of being struck by lightning! Get indoors quickly! Stay away from windows. Keep away from wiring, electrical equipment, appliances and plumbing. Lightning can travel through wiring and plumbing, so if your building gets struck you could get shocked and hurt! So turn off that computer and TV, don’t take a bath, shower or do dishes. Cell phones and cordless phones are ok to use indoors. Wait at least 30 minutes after the storm has passed before going back outside.
Avoid open areas like baseball fields, golf courses, and parks…and don’t be the tallest object in the area. Stay away from tall trees, towers and utility poles. Lightning tends to strike the tallest object in the area…. Lightning CAN strike twice! Outdoor pavillions, covered porches, sheds or tents do NOT protect you from lightning.
Stay away from metal conductors like wires or fences. Lightning can travel long distances through metal conductors.
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.
If you think someone has been struck by lightning, tell and adult immediately to call 911. Lightning victims do not carry an electrical charge, so it is ok to move the person to a safer location out of the storm and render first aid as needed by a qualified person.
LIGHTNING MYTH AND FACT
MYTH: You are 100% safe inside your house during a lightning storm.
FACT: A house is a safe place to be during a thunderstorm as long as you stay away from metal windows and doors, plumbing fixtures, and avoid using electrical appliances.
MYTH: Lightning never strikes in the same place twice.
FACT: Lightning does strike in the same place often, especially tall objects that are isolated. The Empire State building in midtown Manhattan, NYC, gets struck around 23 times a year!
MYTH: Rubber tires on a car can protect your from lightning by keeping you grounded.
FACT: For the most part, cars are safe from lightning, but it’s not the rubber tires – it’s the metal roof and metal sides that protect you. When lightning strikes a vehicle, it travels through the metal frame into the ground. Vehicles like convertibles, motorcyles and open recreational vehicles offer no protection. So do not ride your bike in a storm!
MYTH: If you are stuck outside during a thunderstorm, you should crouch or lay down flat on the ground.
FACT: Crouching or lying down does NOT make you any safer outdoors. RUN to a building or hard top vehicle. You are NOT safe anywhere outdoors during a thunderstorm with lightning.
- Around the world, there are 50 to 100 cloud-to-ground lightning strikes each second.
- Most lightning strikes average 2 to 3 miles long and one lightning strike can generate 100 million to 1 billion volts of electricity.
- 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 54,000 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!