Severe Weather Awareness Week: Lightning

Published: Mar. 19, 2021 at 5:54 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 6, 2022 at 9:50 PM EST
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(WHSV) - Lightning is still something we are trying to study and learn about. It’s difficult to study because you don’t know exactly where it will strike, it’s only for an instant and lightning is extremely dangerous.

Parts of the Southern Plains and Florida see the most lightning strikes in a year
Parts of the Southern Plains and Florida see the most lightning strikes in a year(Vaisala)

A bolt of lightning can be as hot as 50,000 degrees, that’s five times hotter than the surface of the sun!

TYPES OF LIGHTNING

Now there are a few types of lightning. Cloud to ground lightning is simply lightning that strikes from the cloud and reaches the ground.

The most common cloud to ground lightning strike is a negatively charged strike. These strikes happen about 90-95% of the time.

Then we have positive lightning strikes. These have much more power because they start from the top of the thunderstorm cloud. The thunder can also be much louder. Because these contain more energy, they are much more deadly. Positive lightning can strike out more than 10-20 miles from a storm.

Negative and Positive Lightning
Negative and Positive Lightning(WHSV)

Then we have intra cloud lightning which is lightning within the cloud. This is going to be the more common type of lightning you would see on a warm summer night from a distant thunderstorm.

Lightning can be destructive to homes, trees, and people.

Lightning can do thing like strip bark from a tree or splitting something like a tin roof.

July 2020 - Rockingham County
July 2020 - Rockingham County(WHSV)

“Lightning is incredibly powerful. A single bolt of lightning carries as much as 300 million volts and 30,000 amps. Think about a typical light bulb in a home which is above 120 volts and about 15 amps,” said Matthew Tobia, chief of the Harrisonburg Fire Department.

Lightning doesn’t have to strike your house to cause disruptions.

“Typically what you find is that lightning doesn’t have to strike the house directly. If it strikes the ground or a tree nearby, the lightning can actually travel into the home underground,” Tobia said.

LIGHTNING MYTHS AND FACTS

  • It’s not raining so I don’t have to worry about lightning
    • MYTH: Lightning can strike as far away as 10-15 miles away from a storm. So the can can actually be clear, and lightning nearby can still strike
This lightning strike in Virginia struck 15 miles away from the storm
This lightning strike in Virginia struck 15 miles away from the storm(WHSV)
  • Lightning never strikes the same place twice
    • MYTH: Lightning can often strike the same place multiple times
  • If someone is struck by lightning you shouldn’t touch them because they can be electrified.
    • MYTH: The body doesn’t store electricity so you should get medical attention to the person who was struck immediately.

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