(WFXR) — Lightning lights up the sky with brilliant flashes, signaling a storm is nearby. Many may feel inspired to try to capture an awe-inspiring, well-timed image of a bolt of lightning.
And it can be deadly.
In the United States, an average of 25 people are killed each year after being struck by lightning.
We, typically, see the most thunderstorms during the summer months. The warm air rises, cools, and condenses to form a cloud. Eventually, the cloud will grow tall enough to produce a storm.
Inside the cloud, water droplets and ice particles caught up in the cloud’s turbulent updrafts and downdrafts bump into one another, generating friction. This causes the particles to become electrically charged.
Both positive and negative particles are found floating inside the cloud. In time, the positively charged particles collect at the top of the cloud and along the ground with the negatively charged ones towards the base of the cloud.
As the old saying goes, ‘opposites attract’, so is the case with charged particles — positive to negative and negative to positive. Because of this attraction, a path can be created through the air between the oppositely charged particles. When the path is completed, a sudden burst of a high voltage electrical discharge occurs, generating the lightning bolt we see.
These lightning bolts can occur inside the cloud, from one cloud to another, and from the cloud to the ground. Strikes can even generate from the anvil of the cloud to the ground and are often the most deadly.
One lightning bolt can heat the surrounding air to 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which is five times hotter than the surface of the sun. The immense and sudden heat of a strike leads to a rapid expansion of air along the bolt’s path. This is immediately followed by the air collapsing back in. Thus, the sound wave we hear as thunder is created.
Because the speed of light is faster than the speed of sound, you can use this trick to determine the number of miles you are from the storm. Count the number of seconds between the flash of lightning and the boom of thunder that follows, then divide this number by five. The answer will give you an idea of how close you are to the storm.
It’s important to remember if you can hear thunder, you’re close enough to be hit by lightning. When thunder roars, go indoors.
Keep in mind lightning tends to strike the tallest object in any open space. As a result, shielding yourself from the rain of a storm under a tree is not a good idea. You also want to avoid open fields and ridges because you do not want your own body to be the tallest object in an open space either.