Let’s take a look at 10 facts about thunder and lightning.
1 Lightning 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 lightning bolt is 5 times hotter than the sun
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 an 80% chance that you’ll experience a nocturnal thunderstorm. I like those odds.
4 Lightning ignites 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 Thunder to lightning distance
You can use thunder as a gauge for how far away lightning is. This is because is light travels at a staggering 186,282 miles per second. But sound 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.
6 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.
7 Snowfalls can cause lightning to strike
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 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. This process of nitrogen fixation is part of the nitrogen cycle.
9 Don’t take a bath during a thunderstorm
When lightning strikes a house, pipes can carry that electrical 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.