If you have ever seen lightning hit the ground near you, you know how much power is in that one electrical strike. The sound is deafening, even from several feet away. Other times, lightning seems to keep its distance. The lights and sounds seem far away as the lightening illuminates entire clouds, high above the Earth’s service. Sometimes the rain that we expect to see with the lightning never comes. These electrical storms are fascinating to watch. These powerful charges of energy have even been known to strike people. The different types of lightening might surprise you.
Current statistics show that about 2,000 people suffer fatalities from lightning strikes annually. Amazingly nine out of every 10 people that receive a hit survive the blast. If you ever think that lightning got a little too close to striking you, it may be of interest that we all about a 1 in 5,000 possibility of being the next victim. Health issues resulting from a strike include long-term memory loss, numbness, and dizziness. Immediate reactions vary from cardiac arrest to life-threatening burns. Our cars and homes have sufficient grounding capabilities, in most cases.
What is it?
Lightning is formed when an imbalance occurs between a storm cloud and the ground. These imbalances can also take place inside the cloud. The majority of lightning happens inside clouds. When a storm is active, there are many particles that run into each other. These can include ice, snow, and rain that exist inside the clouds. These items add to the imbalance that occurs. The underside of the cloud becomes negatively charged, while items on the ground, and the ground itself, develop a positively charged status. The result is a passing current between the cloud and the ground.
It isn’t difficult to imagine what lightning feels like. Its main quality is that it is extremely hot. The air around a lighting strike has been known to reach temperatures that exceed those on the sun by five times. This heat is what causes the incredibly loud sounds of thunder that come with lightning. The air expands and vibrates in response to the heat. When lightning strikes a few feet away from you, the loud sound vibrates everting around you. The thunder is heard, and felt, immediately. When the lightning is further away, we perceive there to be a pause between the two.
Too Close for Comfort
Cloud to ground lightning is the name given to the strikes that hit the ground form a nearby cloud. They can house up to one billion electrical volts. The bolt of lightning that accomplishes this starts with a sequence of negative charges that eventually speeds down to the Earth after releasing from the bottom of a storm cloud. They travel at about 200,000 miles per hour (mph), with an average length about 150 feet. What is often perceived as lighting coming down from the sky is actually a transfer of electricity between the ground or an object. The cloud comes in contact with a positively charged object, causing electrical energy to leave the cloud and come up from the ground.
Not all lightning ends up on the ground or hitting a tree. Sometimes it stays in the clouds. This type can move between the clouds when areas with different charges are present. Scientists are still trying to understand ball lightning. This shows as a tiny floating sphere. It remains charged, like the clouds, and seems to defy all normal ideals of gravity by the way it floats around.
Lightning does not always originate from the bottom of a cloud. Extremely strong and dangerous lightning can move out form the top of a cloud. This lightning often seems to come out of nowhere, lighting up the entire sky. It begins with a positive charge, unlike that from the bottom of a cloud. It can even strike several miles from the cloud that formed it. This type of lightning reverses the glow of the more common lightning.