Why does lightning happen
Lightning is a form of electricity. It happens when the negative and positive charges of electricity in clouds get together. This happens when the ice and water particles in a cloud collide with each other. The negative atoms on the bottom of the cloud go looking for the positive atoms on the top of the cloud. When they get together…BOOM! That’s lightning. But why doesn’t it lighting all the time?
Aren’t clouds made of water and ice droplets?
Yes, they are, but the electricity produced in a cloud only happens when the cold and hot winds blowing the clouds mix together to make the air unstable (stormy). That is why lightning only happens during storms.
Different types of lightning
There are several different types of lightning:
CLOUD TO GROUND LIGHTNING: Cloud to ground lightning is the most dangerous type of lightning because the negative charges on the bottom of the clouds reaches out to the positive charges on the ground instead of on the tops of the clouds.
Cloud to ground lightning finds the positive charges it is looking for in trees, water, tall buildings and even people. Only 25% to 30% of all lightning is cloud to ground lightning.
INTRA-CLOUD LIGHTNING: Intra-cloud lightning is the most common type of lightning. This is the lightning that happens within a single cloud. This type of lightning looks like someone is turning a light switch on and off in a room. Flat or sheet lighting are other names for intra-cloud lightning.
INTER-CLOUD LIGHTNING: This is lightning that takes place between two or more different clouds. The negative charges from one cloud reach out to the positive charges of another cloud. This does not happen very often.
FORKED LIGHTNING: Forked lightning is the scary looking lightning we see during bad storms. It has one long streak with lots of forks or fingers along each side of the main streak. Forked lighting can go from cloud to cloud or from the clouds to the ground.
How are lightning and thunder related
Thunder is the sound lightning makes. The sound is delayed; meaning it doesn’t happen at the same time. But did you know you can tell how far away a storm is by counting the number of seconds it takes to hear thunder after seeing lightning? Here’s how:
Count the number of seconds it takes for it to thunder after you see a streak of lightning. Divide that number by 5. The answer is how far the storm is from you in miles.
EXAMPLE: If you can count to 15 after you see the lightning before it thunders, the storm is 3 miles away from you. (15 divided by 5 is 3) If you can only count to 3, the storm is only 6 tenths of a mile from you. (3 divided by 5 is .6).
Other lightning facts
- Lighting kills about 200 people every year.
- Lightning strikes the ground somewhere on Earth almost every second of every day.
- Lightning bolts contain millions of volts of electricity.
- Lightning is HOT! A bolt of lightning has a temperature of about 40,000 degrees F. That’s hotter than the surface of the sun!
If it is storming outside or if you see lightning, it is best to stay inside. You must also remember to:
- Never go in or near the water during a storm
- Do not take cover under a tree if you are caught outside in a storm
- Do not take cover under a metal roof if you are caught outside in a storm
- Lightning is very dangerous!