As severe weather preparedness week rolls on, we at FOX4 continue to talk about different severe weather events that come with the spring season. On Monday, we focused on receiving severe weather information and developing a safety plan. Tuesday was the tornado drill day (that came with some unneeded panic) and we also discussed differences between watches and warnings and the do’s and don’ts of finding a tornado shelter. Today’s focus is on lightning.
Lightning is a significant part of any thunderstorm, severe or non-severe. According to the National Weather Service, “Lightning strikes the United States about 25 million times a year.” Last year, 17 people died from a lightning strike, including one person in St. Louis last July. That person was taking shelter outside under a tree (all info from the NWS).
So why is lightning so dangerous? The two problems are its unpredictability and power. Lightning can be an issue during any time of the year as long as there are t-storms in the forecast. While lightning can hit the same spot twice, knowing exactly where and when lightning will strike a specific location is essentially impossible. The entire process takes less than a second to complete!
Lightning is just the transfer of electrons and protons in the atmosphere. A negative charge can build up at the base of a thunderstorm cloud, attracting positive charges below it at the surface. The “stepped leader” then sends the electrons towards the surface as protons travel upwards. Then, they meet as a powerful transfer of energy that we see a bright flash and bolt, with thunder to follow! This transfer is so powerful that the temperature of the lightning can reach 50,000 degrees, which is hotter than the surface of the Sun!
So what’s the best plan for avoiding lightning? Easy answer…when thunder roars, go indoors! Any time you are able to hear thunder while outside, you are close enough to get hit by lightning. If you’re home, great, stay in your house! If you’re caught outside, find a shelter. That could be a nearby building, a clubhouse, or any other sturdy structure. Your car may also be your best bet if you’re in a wide open area like a park.
And of course, plan ahead so you’re not caught off guard when storms pop up. A great way to do that is to download the FOX 4 Weather App! You can use radar so you know exactly where storms are and which way they’re going. You’ll also get updated forecasts and severe weather alerts directly to your phone for your exact area.