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How Does Lightning Occur - What to Do When Lightning Strikes

A Botany graduate, Nithya Venkat enjoys researching and writing about topics that interest her.

Lightning Strike

Lightning Strike

Lightning is a bolt of electric current caused by the sudden discharge of electric charges from cloud to cloud or from cloud to the ground. It occurs during a thunderstorm or even when there is clear weather.

You can never predict when lightning will strike, so when you see a burst of lightning in the sky, take necessary precautions and be safe.

What you should do when lightning strikes

Lightning can strike miles ahead and cover a large width of an area where it occurs. The key to avoiding being struck by lightning is to avoid being in areas where it can strike.

When you hear a thunderstorm and see lightning, the safest place to take cover would be indoors.

  • if you are out walking to a destination or working outside in your garden and see lightning in the sky, head for cover
  • go inside your home, office, or any nearby building
  • if you are shopping, do not get out of the mall and stay inside
  • if you are inside a car, then stay inside without touching the metal parts of your car because metal can conduct electricity

Precautions - When lightning strikes

A house that follows all safety standards will be well-grounded so that the electric current is safely transmitted to the ground without injuring anyone in the house.

Even when you are inside, and the house is well-grounded, lightning can still injure you because lightning takes the secondary paths available in your house to reach the ground like the electrical wiring, metal frameworks, plumbing, cable, telephone lines, antennas.

Make sure that you are actually safe from lightning strikes indoors by doing the following -

  • do not take a bath or wash your hands during a thunderstorm with lightning. Stay away from water pipes and faucets
  • do not stand in basements, patios, or in any place that has excess moisture because these areas are direct grounding paths to lightning currents
  • do not use any wired appliances or devices like your washing machine, TV, dishwasher
  • do not stand under or near stand-alone trees or tall objects because positive electric charges accumulate on these objects and are direct paths for lightning strikes


Are you safe from a lightning when you are inside the car?

Suppose you are inside a car when lightning strikes, then stay inside the car but keep your hands off the doors, windows, or any metal frame structures in your car because metals are good conductors of electricity. Also, remember not to touch any wired devices in your car.

When the lightning hits your car, it travels over the metal frame and jumps over the tires to hit the ground, and you are safe if you are not touching any metal parts of the car or using any wired devices inside the car.

Structures that do not offer protection against lightning

The following do not offer protection against lightning strikes -

  • golf carts
  • convertibles
  • bus shelters
  • small outdoor shelters

If you are outdoors when lightning strikes, stay away from tall objects that stand alone like trees, flag poles, metal fences, or any metallic objects that can attract current directly.

Any building with a proper lightning protection system installed is safe from the dangers of a lightning strike.

Sky-scrappers are protected from lightning strikes by lightning protection systems.

Lightning Strikes

Lightning Strikes

How does lightning occur?

When water on the ground is heated, it evaporates and rises as water vapor. As it rises, it condenses into tiny particles of water that gather to form clouds. The water droplets in higher levels of the clouds condense into tiny particles of ice because the temperature is colder compared to the lower portions of the cloud.

Many clouds can join together to form bigger clouds loaded with water and ice. The small ice particles constantly bump against each other due to wind forces and develop positive and negative charges.

Positive charges are concentrated on the top of the cloud, and the negative charges that are lighter gathers at the bottom of the cloud. When this happens, the positive charges on the ground are attracted to the negative charges at the clouds' bottom.

The ground electrical charges concentrate on tall objects such as a single tree, pole, or mountain. The negative charges escape from the cloud and try to reach the positive charges on the ground, and when they connect, lightning strikes the ground.

What is thunder?

When lightning strikes from the cloud to the ground, it pierces through the surrounding air and opens up an empty channel for a second. Once the lightning fades, the air collapses back into the channel, causing a huge sound wave that we hear as thunder.

Blue-Jet Lightning

Blue-Jet Lightning

Lightning Forms

  1. Intracloud lightning occurs when the lightning strikes within a cloud. This happens when both the positive and negative charges are in the same cloud.
  2. Intercloud lightning is lightning that occurs between two clouds. This happens when positive charges are in one cloud and the negative charges in the other cloud. This type of lighting is very rare.
  3. Forked lightning has many small branched lightning streaks. It can be seen as intercloud or intracloud lightning, or it can just jump from the cloud into thin air.
  4. Sheet lightning is a blinding flash covering a large area of the sky and seems to light up all the clouds within range.
  5. Ribbon lightning occurs when the wind separates a lightning bolt, and it appears as two parallel lightning strikes.
  6. Ball lightning appears as a huge red ball that explodes with a loud noise. This form of lightning is very rare,
  7. Blue-Jets are bright-colored flashes that occur high above thunderstorms. They are also called Red Stripes or Green Elves. Blue-Jets cannot be seen from the ground.

Calculating the Distance from a Thunderstrom

There is a way to calculate how far away the thunderstorm is from you -

  • count the seconds between the time that you see the lightning and hear the thunder
  • divide the seconds by five

The number that you get is how far away the storm is from you in miles.

Point to Note

One thing to remember is that a person who is struck by lightning does not retain electric charges, so you can go ahead and touch the person.

Call for help immediately if a person is struck by lightning.


References

http://stormhighway.com/safety.php

http://www.weatherquestions.com/What_causes_lightning.htm

http://www.sciencemadesimple.co.uk/activities/lightning

http://www.planet-science.com/categories/over-11s/natural-world/2012/06/what-causes-lightning.aspx

http://www.weatherwizkids.com/weather-lightning.htm


© 2015 Nithya Venkat

Comments

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on September 13, 2020:

Brenda you are so right, thank you for your visit and comment.

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on September 05, 2020:

Nithya,

This one is interesting. I didn't realize there were so many different types if lightening.

Many people think I am silly because I refuse to take a shower or do dishes during a storm.

Your article backs me up.

Thanks for sharing.

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on May 12, 2015:

Supuni Fernando thank you for reading and the vote up..

Supuni Fernando from Colombo, Sri Lanka on May 11, 2015:

Great article. I always wondered about why lightning doesn't strike the cars. Now i got my question answered.

Voted up for a great hub!

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on February 14, 2015:

Rui Carreira glad you both are okay and did not suffer any major harm.

FlourishAnyway thank you for your visit and appreciation.

FlourishAnyway from USA on February 14, 2015:

Very useful information. I had no idea that there were different kinds of lightning. Well done hub!

Rui Carreira from Torres Novas on January 17, 2015:

Yeah.... The lightning bounced around a bit before going into the power socket... it happened to me once and to my grandma another, so that's why I fear lightning the most...

Can't feel safe anywhere unless the shutters are down.

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on January 16, 2015:

Lightning is scary, we just have to learn how to protect ourselves when lighting strikes. A Blue-Jet? It must have been awesome if it was a real Blue-Jet!! Thank you for stopping by and sharing your views.

Yoleen Lucas from Big Island of Hawaii on January 16, 2015:

Once, when I lived in Southern California where thunderstorms are rare, I was inside a building when all of a sudden, the outside lit up with the most brilliant white light ever. A sound like snapping fingers occurred at the same time. This was immediately followed by a boom that shook the building; it felt as if a destruction ball had struck it from underneath.

Later, my roommate, who had been outside, told me she saw a bolt strike the ground, missing a guy by 10 feet. It wasn't raining, and it didn't even strike the highest point; there were palm trees and a hill nearby! The poor guy went into shock.

I've feared lightning ever since. Thank goodness I live in Hawaii, where lightning rarely strikes the ground, so it's easy to enjoy thunderstorms here. Most lightning here is either sheet lightning, or bolts between clouds.

P.S. I believe I may have seen blue jet lightning. Once during a thunderstorm, there was a hole in the clouds, and I saw bolts going upwards from the clouds. I was totally awed. My roommate, who is from Saskatchewan, laughed at me. It must have seemed like a mere sparkler to him.

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on January 15, 2015:

always exploring thank you and am glad that you are careful, lightning can injure and in extreme cases can also kill a person.

AliciaC thank you for stopping by, it is important to be safe when lightning strikes.

Fire8storm it is always better to know what to do, thank you for stopping by.

FlourishAnyway it is sad that you lost two TVs but am glad no one got hurt, take care.

BlossomSB it must have been real scary to be flung off like that and it must have really hurt, thank you for stopping by.

DDE thank you for reading and the vote up, much appreciated.

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on January 15, 2015:

Jackie Lynnley thank you and it is always better to be safe than sorry.

Rui Carreira it must have been scary to see the lightning enter and exit your house, glad no one was hurt.

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on January 15, 2015:

Phyllis Doyle thank you.Mother Nature can wreak havoc whenever she wants to and better to know about the dangers as you say. Thank you for the vote up and share, much appreciated.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on January 15, 2015:

You chose an interesting and worthy topic. I learned a lot from you here. I don't like it when I see such flashes of lightening but you made me more aware of the facts. Voted up!

Bronwen Scott-Branagan from Victoria, Australia on January 14, 2015:

Thank you for such an interesting and informative article. My mother used to get us to sit on the beach and watch the lightning show, but to run for home when it got closer. Once I stayed too long and had to run under a tree beside the gate - just as it was struck. I was flung to the ground and unconscious for a moment, and couldn't hear for quite a while. Scary stuff.

FlourishAnyway from USA on January 14, 2015:

Although beautiful to see, I don't want to be anywhere around an actual strike. I once rented an old house that didn't have grounded wiring and lost two televisions within three weeks to lightning strikes. In the same storms, lightning struck a huge tree in my back yard and it fried not only the tree but the roots underground. The grass where the roots traveled underneath was dead the next day in the obvious pattern of the tree root system. Weird stuff.

Fire8storm on January 14, 2015:

I do love lightning (hence the username) but I have never really thought about what to do should I or someone else ever be struck. This is really good useful information. Great Hub!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on January 14, 2015:

Thank you for sharing some very important safety tips for avoiding injury from lightning, Vellur.

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on January 14, 2015:

Vellur, this is really interesting. The myths video was important too. I am terrified of lightening so I've always been careful. Thank's for sharing...

Rui Carreira from Torres Novas on January 14, 2015:

Great little hub for people who fear thunderstorms such as I do :P

I tend to go indoors and hope it doesn't come in through the window as once happened - it then exited through the power socket.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on January 14, 2015:

I love a good lightening storm as long as I am inside at home and it is not too severe. I saw a TV show once showing this woman who was struck by lightening twice at her kitchen sink! So I do respect caution. Great warnings. ^+

Phyllis Doyle Burns from High desert of Nevada. on January 14, 2015:

Very informative hub, Vellur. When I was a kid, my parents told us many of the safety tips you mention. The forces of Mother Nature are powerful and we all need to be aware of the dangers. Your hub will help many people become informed. Well done. Up, Useful, Interesting and sharing.

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on January 14, 2015:

billybuc thank you and yes I really hope that neither of us are struck by lightning!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on January 14, 2015:

Interesting and useful. Let's hope neither of us is ever struck by lightning. I suspect it would hurt quite a bit. :)