Ask Josh: Lightning

Meteorologist Josh Fitzpatrick talks about lightning facts.

It's that time of year again, a time for thunderstorms!  I've been fascinated by these storms ever since I can remember.  I still like to sit and watch them from a safe place, away from lightning.  Rick in Portsmouth, Ohio wrote me, wanting to know more about lightning.

Lightning is an atmospheric discharge of electricity usually accompanied by thunder, which typically occurs during thunderstorms and sometimes during volcanic eruptions or dust storms.  In the atmospheric electrical discharge, a leader of a bolt of lightning can travel at speed of light, 186,000 miles per second and can reach temperatures 54,000 °F.  That's hotter than the surface of the sun.   Hot enough to fuse sand into glass channels known as fulgurites which are normally hollow and can extend some distance into the ground.  With lightning being that hot, when it slices through the air, it causes the air around the bolt to rapidly expand causing a rumble, which we call thunder.  There are some 16 million lightning storms in the world every year.

Lightning can also occur within the ash clouds from volcanic eruptions, or can be caused by violent forest fires which generate sufficient dust to create a static charge.

How lightning initially forms is still a matter of debate.  Scientists have studied root causes ranging from, wind, humidity,  friction and atmospheric pressure to the impact of solar wind and accumulation of charged solar particles.  IIce inside a cloud is thought to be a key element in lightning development and may cause a forcible separation of positive and negative charges within the cloud, thus assisting in the formation of lightning.

As we know, lightning is very dangerous!  During a thunderstorm, stay away from windows, off the corded telephone, away and out of water, don't even get in the shower or do dishes while lightning is around as it can hit your water pipes and you can get zapped that way.  Stay away from tall, isolated trees and get off the golf course!  Being inside your car is very safe actually during a lightning storm.  It's not because of the rubber tires either but rather the shape of the car, it deflects the electricity safely to the ground.

Lightning kills more people in the U.S. every year than hurricanes and tornadoes combined!

Share your storm thoughts!  Post them in the comment section below.  Thanks for reading!

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