Lightning is a natural weather phenomenon that occurs around the world every day. It happens when electrical charges in a cloud separate and need to find each other again to neutralize. The electricity produced by lightning can contain intense voltage and heat. Lightning can be very dangerous, which is why you should stay away from it whenever you see it occurring. If you hear thunder, you can be sure that a flash of lightning just took place and will probably happen again.
What Is Lightning?
Lightning is made up of electricity, and you can recognize it by a visual flash of light that looks clear or even yellow. A lightning strike can last as little as one microsecond. One lightning bolt can contain millions of electrical volts. All types of lightning are dangerous, but not all are the same. Lightning flashes can have different shapes, sizes and even amounts of electricity in them. Lightning may seem like it is big, but a bolt is actually no wider than one inch. Three million lightning flashes happen in the world every day, making it a common natural phenomenon.
What Causes Lightning?
Lightning occurs after a few different things take place. First, warm currents and gravity force water and little bits of ice around in clouds. When this happens, positive and negative charges separate in the cloud, with the positives staying on the top of the cloud and the negatives on the bottom. The separation continues and grows larger until the positive and negative charges try to find each other again. The negative charges at the bottom of the cloud sense positive charges on the ground. Pathways come up from the ground and, once the pathway carrying positive charges reaches the cloud's negative charges, a spark starts. The spark then turns into a flash of electricity. This flash is what you see when a bolt of lightning strikes. Lightning can happen within one cloud, between two clouds, or between a cloud and the ground it's hovering above. If lightning senses positive charges on the ground, it will try to hit the tallest object it can.
Dangers Of Lightning
Since there is so much electricity in lightning, it can be very dangerous, and you should stay away from it when you see it. While some people have survived lightning strikes, others have lost their lives. Whenever you see lightning or storms forming, go inside and remain there until the storm has passed. Staying outside and watching lightning can put you in danger of having lightning strike you. If you have to be outside, move away from poles, trees, water and anything made of metal. These things can attract lightning strikes.
Precautions should be taken for inside your home as well. Lightning can often send surges of electricity into your home through your home wiring. This can damage your electronics and even cause fires. It is a good idea to use surge protectors with all of your sensitive electronics or to unplug any unprotected electronics during a lightning storm. When running cable, make sure you use cable that is properly rated for what you are using it for, especially if you are installing cable outside. Inside your house make sure that all of your cables are properly installed and up to code. Faulty wiring can easily lead to fires, even without the added dangers of lightning. For more resources on safely installing and organizing cables, check out our articles on how to install and hide TV cables and how to clean up your cables.
What Causes Thunder?
Whenever there is lightning, a thunderstorm is not far off. Because lightning is fast and ferocious, it changes the air around it very quickly and dramatically. When a bolt of lightning strikes, its channel can reach up to 60,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Thunder is the air's intense reaction to its change of gases. You'll always hear thunder after seeing lightning strike, because light travels faster than sound. The sounds of thunder can be really scary, but lightning is much more dangerous than thunder, which is why you should always protect yourself from it.
- Lightning: This is a kid's guide to lightning that focuses on Florida, the lightning capitol of the United States.
- Lightning & Thunder: Scholastic answers common questions about lightning.
- Lightning and Other Wonders of the Sky: Science Library Adventures explains lightning to fourth graders.
- What Causes Lightning?: Fact Monster Science gives a short explanation of what lightning is.
- Do Lightning Rods Attract Lightning?: Discovery Kids discusses the uses of lightning rods.
- Kidstorm: Lightning: Kidstorm provides a step-by-step explanation of the formation of lightning.
- Lightning Safety: Here, a number of lightning games, experiments and links are listed.
- Lightning Facts for Kids: This is a list of facts about lightning.
- Lightning: Just for Kids: This is a clear explanation of what lightning is, and what you should do, if you ever see it.
- What is Lightning?: This discussion of lightning includes pictures and animated images.
- The Weather Channel for Kids: Lightning: This page shows how lightning relates to current weather.
- Lightning Strike: An animated image shows the way positive and negative charges behave when they're forming lightning. This page also includes lightning facts and safety tips.
- Lightning: Learn more about what lightning is and how it is formed.
- Lightning Science and Safety: Sometimes the danger of lightning isn't obvious. This page provides more information on staying safe during a storm.
- Lightning for Kids: Find information, pictures, and even video about lightning.