Lightning...Nature's Fireworks

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What is Lightning?

  • The action of rising and descending air within a thunderstorm separates positive and negative charges. Water and ice particles also affect the distribution of electrical charge.
  • Lightning results from the buildup and discharge of electrical energy between positively and negatively charged areas. 
  • The average flash could light a 100-watt light bulb for more than 3 months.
  • Most lightning occurs within the cloud or between the cloud and ground.
  • Your chances of being struck by lightning are estimated to be 1 in 600,000 but could be reduced by following safety rules. 
  • Most lightning deaths and injuries occur when people are caught outdoors.
  • Most lightning casualties occur in the summer months and during the afternoon and early evening. 
  • The air near a lightning strike is heated to 50,0000F hotter than the surface of the sun! The rapid heating and cooling of air near the lightning channel causes a shock wave that results in thunder. 
  • Many fires in the western United States and Alaska are started by lightning. In the past decade, over 15,000 lightning-induced fires nationwide have resulted in several hundred million dollars a year in damage and the loss of 2 million acres of forest. 

In recent years, people have been killed by lightning while: 

    standing under a tree 
    playing soccer 
    riding on a lawnmower 
    fishing in a boat 
    talking on the telephone 
    mountain climbing 
    bike riding 
    loading a truck

Lightning Can Strike Anywhere!

In recent years, sophisticated lightning detection equipment has monitored cloud-to-ground lightning strikes. The map at right shows which areas were MOST prone to lightning during one year.

Which way does lightning travel?

A cloud-to-ground lightning strike begins as an invisible channel of electrically charged air moving from the cloud toward the ground. When one channel nears an object on the ground, a powerful surge of electricity from the ground moves upward to the cloud and produces the visible lightning strike!

Lightning Myths and Facts

MYTH: If it is not raining, then there is no danger from lightning.
FACT: Lightning often strikes outside of heavy rain and may occur as far as 10 miles away from any rainfall.

MYTH: The rubber soles of shoes or rubber tires on a car will protect you from being struck by lightning.
FACT: Rubber-soled shoes and rubber tires provide NO protection from lightning. However, the steel frame of a hard-topped vehicle provides increased protection if you are not touching metal. Although you may be injured if lightning strikes your car, you are much safer inside a vehicle than outside.

MYTH: People struck by lightning carry an electrical charge and should not be touched.
FACT: Lightning-strike victims carry no electrical charge and should be attended to immediately. Contact your local American Red Cross chapter for information on CPR and first aid classes.

MYTH: "Heat lightning" occurs after very hot summer days and poses no threat.
FACT: What is referred to as "heat lightning" is actually lightning from a thunderstorm too far away for thunder to be heard. However, the storm may be moving in your direction!

Click here to learn how to keep you and your family safe during a storm.