WRAL WeatherCenter Blog

Lightning facts

Posted March 3, 2014

Photo submitted by Randy Milliger. Storm at RDU Airport on March 20, 2012.

— It seems as though there’s a phobia for everything. Just google “strange phobias,” and the list you’ll find is really hard to believe. But have you ever heard of astraphobia? It’s the fear of thunder and lightning!

From time to time, I run into kids (sometimes adults) who have astraphobia. Here’s how I look at it. Things we don’t understand can be scary, but once we learn the facts, it usually gets a lot less scary.

So, what is lightning? Well, inside a thundercloud (or cumulonimbus cloud), there are lots of frozen raindrops that keep bumping into each other. When they bump into each other, an electric charge is created, and pretty soon, the entire cloud fills up with positive and negative charges. The positive charges head to the top of the cloud, while the negative go to the bottom.

Opposites attract, right? So, the negative charges begin to cause a positive charge to develop on the ground beneath the cloud. Eventually, the negative charges at the bottom of the cloud and the positive charges on the ground meet up, and THAT is when lightning strikes.

Yes, it’s complicated, but the safety part is simple.

Lightning safety

If you hear thunder, you are in danger of being struck by lightning. Get inside immediately. A sturdy building is your best bet; however, a car will suffice as long as you roll up the windows. If there is no building or car near you, crouch down close to the ground and stay away from trees or anything else that is taller than you. Be sure to stay away from water. Pools, lakes, even puddles are no-nos when it comes to lightning. If you are indoors, hold off on that shower or bath and don’t use corded telephones. (Do people still use those? I digress…) Refrain from using any electrical device as well, and always wait 30 minutes after you hear the last rumble of thunder to head back outdoors.

Lightning facts

Roy Sullivan, record holder for lightning strikes1. Have you ever wanted to be in the Guinness Book of World Records? Probably not for being the human struck by lightning the most times! That award goes to Roy Sullivan. He was struck SEVEN times during his 71 years spent on this earth!
2. Lightning is typically 15,000 to 60,000 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s hotter than the surface of the sun!
3. Lightning strikes somewhere on Earth every second!
4. There are more than 500,000 flashes every year in North Carolina.
5. North Carolina averages two deaths per year due to lightning.
6. Looking at 2001-2010, North Carolina ranks in the top 10 as far as lightning fatalities.
7. Flooding and tornadoes are responsible for most severe weather fatalities, but lightning comes in at No. 3.

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