Lightning Facts

Lightning is an electrical discharge caused by imbalances between storm clouds and the ground, or within the clouds themselves. It mosty occurs within the clouds. This heat causes surrounding air to rapidly expand and vibrate, which creates the pealing thunder we hear a short time after seeing a flash. It can strike people and buildings and is very dangerous. Thunderstorms affect small areas when compared with hurricanes and winter storms. The typical thunderstorm is 15 miles in diameter and lasts an average of 30 minutes. Nearly 1,800 thunderstorms are happening at any moment around the world. Use the 30/30 rule! Go indoors if you see lightning and can’t count to 30 before hearing thunder. Stay inside for 30 minutes after hearing the last clap of thunder.

An average duration of time for a stroke of lightning is about 30 microseconds. The average peak power of a stroke of lightning is about 10^12 watts. The electrical discharge, lightning, results in heating up the atmosphere immediately around the lightning strike. A typical lightning flash is about 300 million Volts and about 30,000 Amps. In comparison, household current is 120 Volts and 15 Amps. There is enough energy in a typical flash to light a 100-watt incandescent light bulb for about three months or the equivalent compact fluorescent bulb for about a year. It is four times hotter than the sun. A return stroke, that is, a bolt shooting up from the ground to a cloud (after a stream of electricity came downward from a cloud) can peak at 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit (F). The surface of the sun is around 11,000 degrees F. Lightning is 70,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Lava is just 2,240 degrees Fahrenheit. So it is hotter than lava.

As long as you get out of the car after the strike is over, nothing should happen. The car’s body is made of metal, and it will have conducted the electrical charge from the lightning into the ground. It makes no difference to your safety whether the engine is running or not.

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