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Why is lightning white?

Static charges form in a storm composed of ice crystals and liquid water drops. Turbulent winds inside the storm cause particles to rub against one another, causing electrons to be stripped off, making the particles either negatively or positively charged. The charges get grouped in the cloud, often negatively charged near the bottom of the cloud and positively charged up high. This is an electric field and because air is a good insulator, the electric field becomes incredibly strong. Eventually a lightning bolt happens and the flow of electrons neutralizes the electric field. This flow of electrons through the lightning bolt creates a very hot plasma, as hot as 50,000 degrees, that emits a spectrum of electromagnetic energy. Some of this radiation is in the form of radio waves and gamma rays. Instruments that measure these electromagnetic waves allow us to detect lightning bolts that are very far away. Visible light is also part of the spectrum of energy. At these temperatures, laws of physics state that most of the visible light will be at a wavelength perceived as the color blue, although all wavelengths will be emitted. The notion of color applies to our perception of what we see, not to the light itself. When we talk about the color of light, we really mean the color we sense with our eyes and then interpret with our mind. Thus, while the peak energy is at blue wavelengths, the intensity of all the colors tends to saturate our eyes, leading us to perceive the color white – which includes all wavelengths in the visible spectrum. Over the last 20 years scientists have discovered that lightning also shoots upward out of the top of thunderstorms into the upper atmosphere. These lightning types have distinctive colors, including red sprites and blue jets.
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...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.
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On the 21st of August 2011, a thunderstorm forced the Pope to cut short his speech!

On the 21st of August 2011, a thunderstorm forced the pope to cut short his speech to an estimated 1 million young pilgrims gathered at a Madrid airfield to mark World Youth Day. As rain soaked the crowd and lightning lit up the night sky on Saturday, the 84-year-old pontiff skipped the bulk of the speech and delivered brief greetings in half a dozen languages.
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The plane carrying the Spanish national football team home from the World Cup in Brazil was struck by lightning on the 22nd of June 2014!

The plane carrying the Spanish national football team home from the World Cup in Brazil was struck by lightning on the 22nd of June 2014 as it approached its landing in Madrid, adding to the streak of bad luck the team seemed to be on after its World Cup defeat.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Lightning knocked out Internet on Cayman’s Island!

A lightning strike along one of the submarine cables that connects Cayman’s Internet to the rest of the world knocked out Internet service for many on Grand Cayman Tuesday evening. The lightning hit a landing station at the U.S. end of the Maya-1 cable system between Cancun, Mexico and Hollywood, Florida, on Tuesday afternoon, affecting Internet access and some phone service in Cayman, according to local telecom companies and regulators.
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…about the Rochester ice storm?

The 1991 Ice Storm was one of the most damaging storms in Rochester history. It all began 25 years ago on Thursday. We took a look back with a woman who experienced it herself. For residents in our area that were around, the ice storm that began 25 years ago was an event unlike most had ever seen before and the memories of that storm are still as vivid and fresh as they were in 1991.
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In 1769 a single lightning bolt killed 3000 people in Brescia, Italy.

In 1769 a single lightning bolt killed 3000 people in Brescia, Italy, and caused a large part of the city to be destroyed! Over 200,000 pounds of explosives were stored in the Church of San Nazaro on Brescia when a single lightning bolt struck its tower. The resulting explosion and fire killed 3000 people and destroyed a large part of the city.
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Which are the places more likely to be struck by lightning?

The place most likely to be struck by lightning in the world is one spot above Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela, according to new data. Over this mountain lake, there was a lightning show an astounding 297 days out of 365 days a year, on average. Even more surprising, the lightning strikes didn't occur just over the massive lake, but at one particular spot -- the point where the lake empties into the Catatumbo River, researchers said Dec. 14 at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union.
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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!
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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.
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Lightning can strike at sea!

In a rare incident of its kind, a coastguard diver and a citizen were killed after they were struck by a lightning bolt off Khairan beach of Kuwait on the 8th of May 2016. The Interior Ministry said in a statement that a jet ski of citizen Saad Khaled Al-Shereeda broke down and a coastguard boat was dispatched to rescue him. The ministry added that the coastguard diver, Abdullah Othman Al-Doussary, jumped in the water to help the man, but they were both struck by lightning and were killed instantly. In October last year, an Asian was killed by lightning in northern Kuwait during a freak storm. It is estimated that 6,000 to as many as 24,000 people are killed around the world by lightning strikes every year.
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Planes get hit by lightning frequently!

Airplanes get hit by lightning mid-flight! Contrary to what you might believe, it’s a common occurrence on airplanes.
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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.
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Upside-down lightning strikes exist and pose a great threat to wind turbines!

Upward lightning strikes initiate on the ground and head skyward. These discharges, which usually begin at the top of tall and slender structures, pose a real risk for wind turbines. An EPFL study analyzes the mechanisms underlying this poorly understood phenomenon.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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