Weather 101: The power of lightning

    7:37 PM, Jun 23, 2011   |    comments
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    LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- In this week's Weather 101 we are discussing lightening. It's one of Mother Nature's silent killers and it strikes more often during the summer months.

    To understand why lightening can be so dangerous, we must first understand how it works.

    If you've ever scuffed your socks on carpeting on a dry day and touched metal, or "shocked" someone unexpectedly, you've experienced a discharge of static electricity.

    Very similar to how lightening forms, ice crystals within a thunderstorm gain positive charges and are carried to a thunderstorms top.

    Heavier particles of ice form negative charges on the lower half of the thunderstorm, this forces positive charges to increase on the ground.

    In the world of electricity opposites attract. Eventually the negative and positive charges build up to the point the air between them can't insulate them from each other, leading to the lightning discharge.

    Lightning is a part of an atmospheric battery surrounding a thunderstorm. It is produced due to the magnetic attraction between the base of a storm cloud (negative charge) and the ground (positive charge).

    Lightning is fascinating to watch but also extremely dangerous. In the United States, there are about 25 million lightning flashes per year.

    While lightning fatalities have decreased over the past 30 years, lightning continues to be one of the top storm related killers in the United States.

    Lightning injures many more people than it kills. In 2010 Arkansas had 4 lightening related injuries, but no deaths.

    Lightning reaches 50,000 degrees which is 3 times hotter than the sun!

    Living here in Arkansas being struck by lightning is a threat year round.

    This map shows areas where lightning strikes more frequently. The state with the most lightning strikes is Florida with more than 14.5 million strikes a year.

    That brings us to the true of false segment of weather 101.

    True or false?
    Lightning always strikes the tallest object.
    False. Lightning strikes the best conductor on the ground, not necessarily the tallest object. In some cases, the best conductor might be a human being. A car's rubber tires give protection from lightning.
    False. Actually, the car itself is very well insulated and offers more protection than being outside in the storm. Of course, the exception to this is the convertible, which provides virtually no protection.
    Lightning never strikes the same place twice.
    False. Tell that one to the empire state building, which is struck by lightning many times every year.


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