Last Updated: March 20, 2019

Lightning Facts

This list of 10 lightning facts is electrifyingly good.

But first, have you ever wondered why lightning strikes in the first place?

When you rub your feet on the carpet, you build a slight negative charge.

You get a shock because you discharge the static electric charge to a positively charged object.

Similarly, lightning is an electrostatic discharge that is supercharged from ionized air.

1 Lightning always finds the fastest route to Earth

Lightning always takes the path of least resistance. It finds the fastest route by bouncing from charges that it’s most attracted to.

Imagine a bolt of lightning is like you’re walking through a crowd of people. You can’t go directly through the crowd, but you weave through finding gaps. This is similar to last taking the path of least resistance.

2 A bolt of lightning is 5 times hotter than the sun

Lightning Sun Temperature

By releasing a massive bolt of electricity, lightning is five times hotter than the sun when it strikes. But the average lightning strike lasts only 30 microseconds.

The temperature of a lightning strike can reach 30,000K. Whereas the surface of the sun is just 6000K.

3 Lightning strikes 8.6 million times a day

Every day, lightning strikes 8.6 million times on average. The world’s lightning hotspot is Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela.

If you ever decide to go, there’s a 80% chance that you’ll experience a nocturnal thunderstorm. I like those odds.

4 Lightning can ignite forest fires

Lightning has the capability to spark wildfires such as the one in California. As the climate warns, they have the potential to spawn more thunderstorms.

As a result, lightning from these extreme events can ignite first fires with billions of dollars in damage.

5 Volcano eruptions cause lightning strikes

Lightning commonly occur in sync with volcanic eruptions. But how come?

As the ash from a volcano rises, it builds static electricity the same way clouds do. It interacts with the weather system which brings thunder and lightning.

6 You can use thunder as a gauge for how far away lightning is

Light travels at a staggering 186,282 miles per second. But sounds travels much slower at about 1 mile every 5 seconds.

So when you count the time it takes to hear thunder, counting to 5 means that it’s 1 mile away. If you count just one second, lightning is just 1056 feet away.

7 Lightning can occur during snowfall

Winter thunderstorms (thundersnow) occur during a snowfall, instead of rain. Rainfall is heavier and has more moisture than snow so it’s more likely to generate lightning.

But when you get snowfall from lake effect snow, it can build a large enough amount of static in the atmosphere for thundersnow.

8 Lightning adds nitrogen to the soil

Lightning Strikes

Lightning is an electrostatic discharge that is supercharged from ionized air. 78% of the air is nitrogen held together as N2. Lightning splits N2 into NO2, which goes into the soil to form nitrates.

Then, our bodies use this form of nitrogen from plants to make process. This process of nitrogen fixation is part of the nitrogen cycle.

9 It’s dangerous to take a bath during a thunderstorm

When lightning strikes a house, pipes can carry a lot of current. These pipes lead straight to the base of a bathtub. If you’re in a pool of water, you might feel a fraction of the total current of a lightning strike.

But lightning strikes typically range from 5,000-20,000 amps. Even just a fraction can kill a human being.

10 90% of people survive lightning strikes

How can humans survive 100 million to 1 billion volts of electricity from a lightning strike? Lightning strikes are short bursts that can burn as shown in Lichtenberg figures.

But it doesn’t necessarily result in death. It’s often because lightning doesn’t directly strike a person but mostly in the general vicinity.

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