Sparkling and mesmerizing, flashes of lightning have been intriguing us since the dawn of time. Prior to Benjamin Franklin’s scientific discovery in 1752 of electricity in thunderstorms, mythology and mysticism were thought to be behind the scenes directing how and when flashes of lightning would appear. But what have we learned about lightning since 1752? Read this for the shocking truth about lightning.
How Lightning Is Created
Lightning originates in a cloud where raindrops and ice mix together, and air currents rise and fall. All those elements combine to create a huge electrical charge. When the electrical charge is strong enough, it moves down through the air in jagged sections seeking something on the ground to connect with. These jagged sections are called ‘˜step leaders’ and they span 50-yard sections of air. Those step leaders moving downward seeking for something to connect with, attract opposite charges from the ground, like magnets, that reach skyward. When the two opposites meet in the air, a current flows and makes a bright flash of lightning. The bright flash of lightning last less than half a second and generates enough electricity to keep a 100-watt light bulb burning for three months.
And The Thunder Rolls
This electrically charged process also produces a noisy byproduct, thunder. Lightning heats the air to 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which is five times hotter than the surface of the sun. The intense heat creates shock waves that turn into sound weaves of thunder.
Lightning flashes at 60,000 miles per second, while sound comparably creeps by at 1/5 of a mile in the same time frame. That’s why lightning is seen before thunder is heard, but it also provides us with a means to gauge the distance of the storm.
To estimate how many miles away lightning is from you, count the seconds between a flash a lightning and the sound of thunder, divide that number by 5.
A safety rule of 30/30 is advised when in the area of a lightning filled storm. When the time between the lightning flash and thunder is 30 seconds or less, lightning is six miles away or closer. Seek shelter and remain in the shelter until 30 minutes after the last lightning flash or thunder clap before going back outside.
The safest shelter during a lightning storm is a substantial building that is grounded by plumbing and wire. The second best shelter is an enclosed metal vehicle with all windows rolled up.
Avoid being in or near open fields, trees, picnic shelters, water, fences or bleachers 30 minutes before or after a lightning storm. Lightning typically travels 10 miles ahead or behind the storm clouds and rain, but it has been known to strike 20 miles or more away from the storm cloud. Those type of lightning strikes are called, ‘˜bolts from the blue’ and are the most dangerous, because they literally come out a clear blue sky. Apply the 30/30 lightning rule to stay safe.
Flash Facts About Lightning