Lightning safety awareness week is June 19th through June 25th; the Grand Rapids Weather Examiner in combination with the National Weather Service will emphasize lightning safety. Each day a different topic will be highlighted.
Sunday – Michigan fast facts
Monday – Lightning overview
Tuesday – The science of lightning
Wednesday –Lightning safety outdoors
Thursday – Lightning safety indoors
Friday – Medical impacts of lightning
Saturday –Survivor stories
For as long as humans have watched the skies, lightning has fascinated and frightened them. Meteorologists know the cloud conditions necessary to produce lightning, but cannot forecast the location or time of the next stroke of lightning from a storm. At any given moment, there are as many as 1800 thunderstorms in progress somewhere on the earth and each is producing deadly lightning.
As a thunderstorm forms, it produces ice in the upper portion of the cloud. The formation of ice in a cloud is an important element in the development of lightning. Those storms that fail to produce large numbers of ice crystals may also fail to produce lightning. Strong rising and sinking motions within the cloud are important too, as they enhance collisions among cloud particles, causing a separation of electrical charges. Positively charged ice crystals rise to the top of the thunderstorm, and negatively charged ice particles and hailstones drop to the middle and lower parts of the storm.
As the differences in charges continue to increase, positive charges rise up taller objects such as trees, houses, and telephone poles. Have you ever been under a storm and had your hair stand up? Yes, the charge can also move up you! This is natures final warning that you are in the wrong place, and you may be a lightning target! If this happens, you need to act quickly. Run to the closest suitable shelter, either a building or hard topped vehicle.
The negatively charged area in the storm sends out a charge toward the ground called a step leader. It is invisible to the human eye and moves in steps in less than a second toward the ground. When it gets close to the ground, it is attracted by all these positively charged objects, and a channel develops. You see the electrical transfer in this channel as lightning. There may be several repeated transfers of electricity within the channel. You may observe the repeated transfers as flickering lightning.
Tomorrow I will discuss lightning safety outdoors.
For more info: Lightning Safety
Severe Weather 101 – Thunderstorm and lightning safety rules
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