An incredible 45 day storm turned California into a 300-mile-long sea — and it could happen again.
A massive 19th century storm in the pacific United States opened up a 300-mile-long sea that stretched through much of the central part of California. For 43 days, from late 1861 to early 1862, it rained almost nonstop in central California. Rivers running down the Sierra Nevada mountains turned into torrents that swept entire towns away.
...Lightning strikes Catatumbo River in northern Venezuela 280 times per hour, 260 nights per year!
A lightning storm rages almost constantly at the mouth of the Catatumbo River in northern Venezuela, with bolts striking up to 280 times per hour for 10 hours a day, on 260 nights every year. That's 28 lightning strikes per minute for those nights - and about 1.2 million lightning strikes each year.
Venezuela, home of the delicious pabellón criollo, has been experiencing the Catatumbo lightning for hundreds of years now. It comes from storm clouds that amass more than 3,200 feet above the spot where the Catatumbo River flows into Lake Maracaibo. According to meteorologists, winds going across the lake and its surrounding swamps are likely responsible for the storms. The swamps are plains surrounded by mountains - the Andes (home of the first cultivation of quinoa), the Perijá Mountains, and the Cordillera de Mérida - and the combination of heat and moisture in the area creates electrical charges that - when met with wind destabilized by the mountain ridges - turns into lightning and thunderstorms.
Light flashes from the storm can be seen up to 25 miles away, earning the phenomenon the nickname "The Maracaibo Beacon," and it's been used by ships for navigation as a result.
The frequency of the lightning strikes changes both within the year and from one year to the next. October's wet season is peak time for the storms, while they generally calm down in January and February. In fact, there was a break in the storm due to a drought between January and March of 2010, and locals feared that the phenomenon was over for good.
The Catatumbo lightning holds a special place in the heart of Venezuelans, because it may have been partially responsible for the nation's independence. An attempted surprise attack led by British navigator Sir Francis Drake on the Spanish army was spoiled by the bright lightning one night in 1595, a story that was later recounted in Lope de Vega's epic La Dragontea a few years later. Years later, in the early nineteenth century, the Spanish army itself attempted a sneak attack on Maracaibo in order to take back the country towards the end of the Venezuelan War of Independence. Again, the Catatumbo lightning lit up the landscape, thwarting the invasion and allowing Venezuela's beloved revolutionary hero, Simón Bolívar, and his fleet to win one of the last and most important battles in the wars against the Spanish for independence.
The Catatumbo lightning has also been responsible for producing more ozone at the mouth of the Catatumbo than any other place in the world. Scientists have expressed doubt, however, that this will have any effect on the world's ozone layer, due to the lightning's instability. Its effect on tourism, however, is not in doubt, as sightseers have flocked to the region to join nighttime tours to see the lightning. It's a great addition to any South American itinerary.
How Hot Is Lightning?
Lightning is one of the most destructive forces in nature. But for all the folklore and legends amassed over human history on lightning, we know surprisingly little about the inner workings of this powerful phenomenon, including something as simple as how the current that flows through a thunder-inducing flash is related to the temperature of the strike.
"The basic physics of lightning, such as lightning initiation and lightning propagation, is not fully understood at this point," said Robert Moore, a lightning researcher from University of Florida in Gainesville.
"We know the basics, but not the details. So when anybody makes headway, it is major news."
Lightning causes more than $5 billion in damages every year in the U.S., as well as more fatalities than hurricanes.
"A direct hit from a lightning strike can melt a power cable or start a forest fire, where the amount of heat from the lightning plays a major role," said Xiangchao Li, a scientist from China who specializes in lightning research. Li and his team discovered a mathematical relationship between the current intensity and the temperature inside lightning. Their result was published last month in the journal Scientific Reports.
Although there are approximately 100,000 lightning strikes on Earth every single day, the randomness of the occurrences makes it difficult for scientists to study them in an effective or systematic way. So until Thor, the Norse god of lightning as well as other meteorological events, joins a lightning research team, scientists are left to their own devices.
Luckily such a device does exist. Known as an impulse current generator system, the device can create artificial lightning with currents up to tens of thousands of amperes. For perspective, a household or automotive fuse is usually rated well below a hundred amperes, and an electric current of just a few amperes can easily kill you. A natural lightning strike typically carries around 20-30,000 amperes of current. Certainly there are other factors such as size and setting of natural lightning that cannot be replicated in a laboratory, but just in terms of sheer current output, the lightning generated by the device can really give Thor a run for his money.
By using their artificial lightning system, Li and his team were able to dial up lightning strikes at will, with currents between 5,000 to 50,000 amperes. This resulted in artificial lightning strikes with temperatures as high as 17,000 F, twice as hot as the surface of the Sun.
This creates a new problem -- at such high temperatures, a normal thermometer would explode. And even if it didn't, it wouldn't react quickly enough to register the temperature of the lightning strike. Fortunately, there is "light" in "lightning." Li and his team were able to record the lightning's temperature within a millisecond by measuring the intensity of the light at various wavelengths.
After striking lightning at the same place over and over again, they concluded that the relationship between the current and temperature of lightning is a highly logarithmic one, meaning that the temperature difference between lightning strikes with 1,000 and 10,000 amperes is similar to those with 10,000 and 100,000 amperes. This result provides solid evidence for previous theoretical predictions that lacked the support of data.
"The next step would be to compare with measurements from rocket triggered lightning, or natural lightning, which can be done throughout the U.S. or China," Moore suggested.
That's right, rocket-triggered lightning. Essentially a glorified version of Benjamin Franklin's wired kite, scientists today have ways to siphon natural lightning from the sky by launching an electrically grounded rocket, as shown in the video below.
With a better understanding of the physics of lightning, scientists can help engineers to improve current protocols and infrastructures to better deal with lightning -- from weather warning systems to the design of power grids. Perhaps we can one day limit the power of Thor to only smiting Loki on the silver screen.
Animals get struck by lightning, too.
Lightning strikes about 100 times every second of the day, mainly in warmer regions of the world. About 240,000 people are injured by lightning every year, and 24,000 die after being struck. But humans aren’t the only victims of lightning — animals are, too, though reports of such deaths are far rarer than the deaths themselves.
An "of the blue" bolt evidence!
An 11-year-old western Pennsylvania girl is recovering after she was struck by a bolt from the blue. According to Lisa Wehrle the sun was shining when her daughter, Britney, was struck by lightning Friday, apparently from a storm several miles away.
...that Lightning produces afterglow of gamma radiation?
Lightning can produce X-rays and gamma radiation. In the past, researchers thought that this phenomenon only lasted for a very short time, about a ten thousandth part of a second. However, the ionizing radiation of lightning appears to shine much longer than presumed: an afterglow of gamma radiation arises, which lasts up to 10,000 times longer. This is demonstrated for the first time by computer simulations of researchers from Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica (CWI) in Amsterdam. Their article 'TGF afterglows: a new radiation mechanism from thunderstorms' was published on 22 October 2017 in the scientific journal Geophysical Review Letters. This discovery can provide more insight into how lightning develops.
Terrestrial gamma flashes
‘Terrestrial gamma flashes’ were discovered about two decades ago. When lightning starts, electrons can be accelerated to very high energies, which cause an explosion of gamma radiation when these electrons crash into air molecules: the so-called terrestrial gamma flashes'. Bursts of up to a trillion (‘a billion billion’) gamma particles are measured on the ground, in airplanes and by satellites. However, these measurements are difficult, since these bursts are very focused and only last for a short time, around 0,0001 seconds. There is still much unknown about how these terrestrial gamma flashes arise and what their role is in the development of lightning. The now discovered afterglow helps to study this phenomenon.
Afterglow in all directions
CWI researcher Casper Rutjes explains what happens in the newly discovered radiation mechanism. “The radiation of a terrestrial gamma flash is so strong that nuclear reactions can take place. When the gamma rays hit the atomic nuclei of the air molecules, the protons and neutrons, of which atomic nuclei exist, can be detached. The loose neutrons can wander longer and farther than protons because they don’t have electrical charge. After a while, the neutron is captured by another atomic nucleus, which can again produce gamma radiation. The high energy of the gamma ray flash, which is used in releasing neutrons, is, so to speak, temporarily stored in the released neutrons.” The CWI researchers calculated that in this way an afterglow of new gamma radiation occurs, which lasts for 1,000 to 10,000 times longer than the gamma ray flash itself and which is not focused but radiates into all directions, which facilitates measurements.
The CWI researchers found in the scientific literature hardly any measurements that corresponded to the predictions, because almost no one was done on the right time scale. Researcher Casper Rutjes says: “Recently, our simulations have also been confirmed by experiments. Almost simultaneously, G.S. Bowers et al. of the University of California Santa Cruz, have measured a clear afterglow of gamma ray flashes in Japan, after a lightning bolt struck a wind turbine. That article, ‘Gamma-ray signatures of neutrons from a terrestrial gamma-ray flash’, also appeared now in the scientific journal Geophysical Review Letters.
About the radiation risk Rutjes says: “The chance of being hit directly by a terrestrial gamma ray flash is very small. If someone in a plane is hit directly by such a narrow terrestrial gamma ray flash, this person will receive a radiation dose approximately equal to 400 times an X-ray picture (30 mSv). The afterglow that we discovered radiates into all directions, increasing the chance that a plane flying above a thunderstorm is hit, but fortunately, that radiation is much weaker. The radiation dose of the afterglow after lightning is not dangerous: less than passengers already receive through background radiation when they fly for an hour.”
The research was conducted by Casper Rutjes, Gabriel Diniz, Ivan Ferreira and Ute Ebert from Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica (CWI) in Amsterdam, and it was funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO).
Animals can have storm phobia!
According to WbMD, storm phobia is very real and should be taken seriously. Loyal masters are often awaken in the middle of the night – not from the thunder – but from the uninvited pet jumping in the bed looking for comfort from the storm.
Cases of storm phobia in pets can be much more severe and should not be ignored. They say some pets have been known to “claw through drywall, chew carpets, or break through windows in their escalating panic.”
What was that strange light in the sky?
Many people overnight reported seeing strange lights in the sky, a phenomenon that has been reported for centuries before, during, and after earthquakes.
Seismologists aren't in agreement about the causes of the hotly-debated phenomenon - called earthquake lights or, sometimes, earthquake lightning.
And, of course, it's not clear whether the lights overnight in New Zealand were the phenomenon, or something else.
One theory suggests dormant electrical charges in rocks are triggered by the stress of the Earth's crust and plate tectonics, transferring the charge to the surface where it appears as light.
Historical reports include globes, or orbs, of glowing light, floating just above the ground or in the sky.
Much like tidal research, it is an area that is notoriously difficult to investigate. Tidal stresses and their effects on the Earth are minute, but measurable, although many seismologists remain unconvinced by theories of "tidally triggered" earthquakes.
With "earthquake light", the phenomenon is also notoriously difficult to observe, study, and measure.
GNS seismologist Caroline Holden said there were anecdotal reports of lights in the sky.
"Unfortunately, we cannot measure this phenomena or its extent with our instruments to provide a clear explanation," she said.
The phenomenon has been documented for centuries.
Hypotheses have suggested the movement of rocks could generate an electric field, others suggest quakes can lead to rocks conducting electromagnetic energy and a subsequent build up of electric charges in the upper atmosphere.
Yet another theory suggests a link between the electric charge, or current, released by the earth ripping and buckling below the surface, and the magnetic properties of rock.
The charge appears as light, so the theory goes.
People reported similar strange lights in the sky during the 2011 Christchurch earthquake.
In 1888, before a large quake around the Hanmer region, a strange glow in the sky was reported by observers.
One recent study documented hundreds of sightings of strange light, glowing, and aurora-like reports, from 1600 to the 19th century.
The study in the Seismological Research Letters suggested a charge builds up in rock inside the Earth's crust and, as it becomes rapidly unstable in a quake, expands outward.
In an earthquake, the electrical charge transfers from below the surface to the surface, or above, depending on the conductivity of the rock - appearing as light.
"When such an intense charge state reaches the Earth's surface and crosses the ground–air interface, it is expected to cause [an electric transmission and breakdown] of the air and, hence, an outburst of light.
"This process is suspected to be responsible for flashes of light coming out of the ground and expanding to considerable heights at the time when seismic waves from a large earthquake pass by."
The study said some seismologists also think the theory could account for other phenomena, such as changes to electrical fields, strange fog, haze, clouds, and low-frequency humming or radio frequency emission.
In the study, the researchers found the light was more often associated with a type of quake in which tectonic plates are wrenched apart, known as a "rift" earthquake
Almost half of drivers speed to avoid hail storms!
According to research from RACQ nearly half of Queensland, Australia drivers will speed to avoid hail damage to their cars. The motoring club and insurer's research revealed 47% of motorists admitted to speeding to avoid hail damage to their cars - up from 44% last year. The research also found female drivers were more likely to speed (54.2%) than males (52%) when a storm hits.
Storm sank 4 ships on Lake Erie in 1916
Some call it Lake Erie’s “perfect storm,” one so powerful 100 years ago that it caused four ships to sink within 18 hours.
In all, 49 lives were lost in the lake’s Canadian waters, but those crew members are being remembered right here in Toledo.
“This massive [storm] affected communities across the lake,” said Carrie Snowden, archaeological director for the Toledo-based National Museum of the Great Lakes, and who is giving a presentation about the storm during a lecture series today. “This storm is Lake Erie’s own perfect storm; this coming together of different weather fronts to create something horrific on top of Lake Erie. The human loss is of greater significance.”
Google lost data by lightning strikes!
On 2015, during an August thunderstorm, Google lost data by lightning strikes! Google says data has been wiped from discs at one of its data centres in Belgium - after the local power grid was struck by lightning four times.
Volcano eruptions can produce lightning!
Mount Etna spectacularly exploded on the 3rd of December 2015 for the first time in two years, sending a plume of volcanic ash scorching through the sky. The cloud was lit up with the astonishing sight of a "dirty thunderstorm", which causes lightning to streak through a cloud of ash. This natural wonder occurs when tiny fragments of rock, ash and ice rub together to produce static electricity.
A man was blown out of boots after being hit by a lightning bolt!
A man in Atlanta, USA was lucky to be alive after he was struck by lightning, blowing him right out of his work boots. Sean O’Connor was doing yard work Saturday when he was struck by a bolt of lightning and knocked unconscious. According to the 30-year-old, the sun was shining and there appeared to be no threat of storms when he began working in his yard.
A United States park ranger was hit by lightning on seven different occasions and survived all of them. He died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound at the age of 71 over an unrequited love!
Roy Cleveland Sullivan was a United States park ranger in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Between 1942 and 1977, Sullivan was hit by lightning on seven different occasions and survived all of them. For this reason, he gained a nickname "Human Lightning Conductor" or "Human Lightning Rod". Sullivan is recognized by Guinness World Records as the person struck by lightning more recorded times than any other human being. He died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound at the age of 71 over an unrequited love.
On July 13, 1977, New York City endured a 25-hour blackout after lightning strikes power lines.
On July 13, 1977, New York City endured a 25-hour blackout after lightning strikes power lines, prompting widespread arson, looting, and riots. The blackout was to many a metaphor for the gloom that had already settled on the city. An economic decline, coupled with rising crime rates and the panic-provoking (and paranoia-inducing) Son of Sam murders, had combined to make the late 1970s New York’s Dark Ages.
Lightning caused deaths are fewer every year, at least in the US!
This decade will go down in weather history as one of the wildest in modern times. Since 2010, we’ve seen both the widest and strongest tornado on record touch down in Oklahoma. Mexico felt the wrath of the strongest hurricane ever recorded in terms of wind speed. The American West is enduring a years-long drought with no end in sight. But it’s not all bad news. This decade is also on track to see the lowest number of lightning deaths we’ve ever recorded in the United States, and that’s quite the accomplishment.
On April 3, 1856 a lightning strike obliterated 4000 people in Rhodes, Greece.
On April 3, 1856 a lightning strike obliterated 4000 people. The lightning stroke the Palace of the Grand Masters, Rhodes, Greece, which was used as an ammo storage, resulting in a massive explosion that killed 4,000 people in and around the Palace, reducing it to a pile of rubble that sat on Rhodes for almost a century.
..that ship-emitted particles and increase lightning?
MODERN, broad-beamed merchant vessels are well able to withstand the rough and tumble of the waves, but sailors still prefer to avoid storms at sea if they can. Containers may come loose in heavy weather and there is always a chance of lightning knocking out communications. It is therefore ironic that some storms may be caused by ships themselves. That, at least, is the conclusion reached by Joel Thornton of the University of Washington, in Seattle, and his colleagues in a paper just published in Geophysical Research Letters. They demonstrate that lightning strikes the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea almost twice as often along shipping lanes as it does other areas of these waters.
Dr Thornton and his team considered 1.5bn strikes recorded in this part of the world by the World Wide Lightning Location Network (an international collaboration led by Dr Thornton’s colleague, Robert Holzworth) between 2005 and 2016. As the map shows, those strikes that happened over the ocean were concentrated in places most plied by ships. In particular, the shipping lane that passes from the south of Sri Lanka to the northern entrance of the Straits of Malacca, and thence down the straits to Singapore, positively glows with lightning. (Its westward extension to the Suez canal was outside the study area.) So do the lanes from Singapore and the western part of Malaysia that head north-east across the South China Sea.
Neither changes in vertical wind shear nor differences in horizontal air movements seem likely to be causing this concentration of thunderstorms, for other measurements suggest that these weather-modifying phenomena are the same inside shipping lanes as they are in neighbouring parts of the atmosphere immediately outside those lanes. Nor does it seem plausible that the ships themselves (admittedly made of metal, and also the tallest structures on what is otherwise a flat surface) are responsible for attracting all the extra strikes involved. Though the area of the lanes is small compared with the whole ocean, it is vast compared with the area actually occupied by vessels. Most of the extra bolts are hitting the sea rather than craft sailing across it.
The most likely explanation is particulate pollution emitted by the ships using the shipping lanes. Marine diesel burned offshore is generally high in sulphur, and its combustion produces soluble oxides of that element which act as nuclei for the condensation of cloud-forming droplets. Typical marine clouds in unpolluted areas are composed of large droplets and do not rise to high altitude, but Dr Thornton and his team reckon that smaller droplets, of the sort that condense around oxides of sulphur, might more easily be carried upward by convection—forming, as they rose, into towering storm clouds that would act as nurseries of lightning bolts.
As to what can be done about this extra lightning, change may already be in hand. At the moment, standard “bunker” fuel has an average sulphur content of 2.7%. From 2020 that should fall to 0.5% if refiners and shipowners obey rules being introduced by the International Maritime Organisation, the body responsible for trying to impose order on the world’s shipping.
Ships are also being sailed more efficiently, often by slowing them down, which reduces the amount of fuel consumed per nautical mile. That is how Maersk Line—one of the world’s biggest container-ship operators—has cut its fleet’s fuel consumption by 42% since 2007.
On top of this, ship propulsion is becoming more efficient, as heat-recycling systems and new types of engine are introduced. In a few decades, therefore, the storminess of shipping lanes may have returned to normal. In the meantime, for any who may doubt humanity’s ability to affect the weather, Dr Thornton’s work provides strong evidence that it can.
This article appeared in the Science and technology section of the print edition under the headline "Brimstone and fire"
Lightning protection tents exist!
The probability of getting struck by lightning is statistically very rare, but alas, storm-attributed deaths and injuries stretch into the low thousands on an annual basis. About 96% of those struck were in open environments when hit. A majority — as you may expect — come from frequent participators in outdoor activities such as hiking, camping, and climbing. Industrial designer kama jania’s ‘bolt’ line of tents was created to increase the safety of those unfortunate to be in the wrong place when the weather turns.
All 11 members of a football team were killed by a lightning bolt during a match.
All 11 members of a football team were killed by a bolt of lightning at during a match in the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to a Congolese newspaper that reported the incident, the other team was left unharmed!