Credit: Steven Vanderburg / NOAA
This past week was Lightning Safety Awareness Week, and it is always important to be aware of your surroundings and know what your plan is when lightning strikes. As the saying goes, “When thunder roars, go indoors!”. According to the National Weather Service, over 25 million cloud-to-ground lightning strikes typically hit the United States each year. Over the last few years there have been approximately 50 lightning-caused fatalities each year. Being one of the top storm-related killers in the United States, lightning is a weather phenomenon that is necessary to be aware of. It is important to be sure to wait 30 minutes after the last rumble of thunder before going back outside.
Lightning occurs after thunderstorms develop, as tall cumulonimbus clouds form an anvil shaped cloud, and rain begins to develop within the cloud. This causes the formation of the thunderstorm, in which ice particles within the cloud exhibit positive or negative charges. Typically, negatively charged particles are located at the base of the bottom of the cloud, and positively charged particles are located at the top of the cloud. Because there are negative charges located at the bottom of the cloud, positive charges develop on the ground, to attract these negative charges. Lightning then occurs when leaders extend from the negatively charged portion of the cloud and connect through a channel with the positive charges of electricity rising up from the ground, causing a lightning strike to reach the ground. This is called cloud-to-ground lightning. Anvil-to-ground lightning can also occur when a leader extends from the positively charged top portion of the cloud and connects with a negative charge rising up from the ground. This can cause lightning that strikes areas from a great distance of 25 miles away, and these strikes can be known as “bolts from the blue”.
Despite what many believe, lightning does not need to be that close to your location to strike. Lightning can strike a location from over 15 miles away, and often will strike before the thunderstorm is near overhead. Whenever you hear the sound of thunder, it is imperative that you go inside immediately. The period of time as the thunderstorm approaches and dissipates is the window that represents high danger with the greatest threat of lightning activity. If you cannot get indoors immediately, the next best option is to get inside a car with a metal frame such that the metal can conduct electricity as the lightning strikes and allow the strike to reach the ground. This is why being inside a sturdy structure or building with electrical cabling is the absolute best option to protect you during lightning activity. Any location that is open on any sides is not safe during lightning strikes and should be avoided. It is also very important to avoid contact with any wires, plugged in electronics, water and plumbing, concrete, and all metal surfaces. Even while safe inside, these objects are great conductors of electricity and could prove fatal if lightning were to strike your location. With summer thunderstorms underway, be sure to be lightning aware and always rush indoors at the first rumble of thunder.
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©2019 Weather Forecaster Christina Talamo
DISCUSSION: When it comes to Spring and Summer-time weather, there is little to no debate that one of the premiere issues which comes into play during all days which are conducive for strong to severe thunderstorm activity is the inherent threat for lightning activity. Most people around the world understand the fact that lightning is a uniquely dangerous component of severe weather threats because from a fundamental standpoint, lightning is an electrical current which upon hitting a water-based or a metallic surface will conduct and transfer the corresponding high-end electrical energy through a given surface. Thus, one of the many reasons for why a lightning strike is so dangerous is the fact that it can quite literally create a life-threatening situation in a split second.
To be exact, although lightning is most often found to strike within a reasonable proximity to ongoing convective storms, there have been many recorded instances in which lightning has struck the surface of the Earth at distances up to 10 or even 15 miles from the outer edge of a given thunderstorm. Hence, this just goes to prove the reality of the fact that even though you may at some point find yourself positioned at a fair distance from a given thunderstorm event, this does not by any means allow for one to be relaxed to any extent.
Regardless of whether you are very close to or very far away from a given thunderstorm event, one such example of why it is so important to respect the natural power of lightning during any given thunderstorm event is what recently happened over at the U.S. Women’s Open event back in the first week of June 2019. You can see in the video above how even as a thunderstorm threat was clarified to the people on the given golf course, there were still a substantial number of people moving about just as a classic cloud-to-ground lightning strike occurred. Thus, this just reveals the fact that even with adequate warning it is always critical to respect the natural power of thunderstorm since they can often behave and unfold quite unexpectedly. Henceforth, reinforcing the importance of always being vigilant and remaining updated on near to short-term weather forecasts so you can be a step ahead as much as possible.
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© 2019 Meteorologist Jordan Rabinowitz