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. Most lightning occurs within the cloud or between the cloud and ground.

The average flash of lightning could turn on a 100-watt light bulb for more than 3 months. The air near a lightning strike is 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.

Your chances of being struck by lightning are estimated to be 1 in 600,000 but those chances can be reduced by following safety rules. Most lightning deaths and injuries occur when people are caught outdoors, and most happen in the summer. Many fires in the western United States and Alaska are started by lightning. In the past 10 years, more than 15,000 fires have been started by lightning.

Lightning Fact and Fiction

Fiction: Lightning never strikes the same place twice.

Fact: Lightning has “favorite” sites that it may hit many times during one storm.

Fiction: 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.

Fiction: 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.

Fiction: 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.

Fiction: “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!

More Facts about Lightning

  • Lightning's unpredictability increases the risk to individuals and property.
  • Most lightning deaths and injuries occur when people are caught outdoors in the summer months during the afternoon and evening.
  • Lightning strike victims carry no electrical charge and should be attended to immediately.

Source: Federal Emercency Management Agency (FEMA)

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