Lightning Awareness And Safety

With afternoon thunderstorms forecasted for everyday this week, it's only fitting it is National Lightning Safety Awareness week. To some, thunderstorms are scary, the intense shock of lightning sending thunder rumbling through the atmosphere. To others (cough, meteorologists, cough), it's a fascinating feat of molecular science blowing up in real life. Before we can implement safety procedures, we must first get a basic understanding of how these storms form.

It starts with large pockets of warm air rapid rising off the surface of the earth. As the air rises, the water vapor with in the air pocket condenses in to water droplets and if the air pocket rises fast enough, hail will form within the new born cloud. The hail is small enough to stay suspended in the cloud, colliding with other hail stones. These collisions charge the cloud (negatively charged bottom and positively charged top). The charges along the bottom of the cloud attract positive charges in the ground and if the charge difference between the cloud and ground becomes strong enough, a lightning stroke occurs.

So how do we avoid getting hit by lightning? Seek shelter if you are caught outside in a storm. Do not seek shelter under isolated trees as these are essentially magnets for lightning. If you are out on a boat or swimming, get out of the water as fast as you can (water is a great conductor of electricity). If you are not near shelter, get into a car and roll up the windows. The car will act as a security blanket, sending any lightning strokes through the outside of the car down in to the ground. If you are inside, avoid direct contact with electric items (computers, phones, etc.) and wait on using faucets, sinks, and bath tubs.