Facts and figures behind thunderstorms, lightning strikes

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Every second of the day, 365 days a year, a flash of lightning will light up the sky. That’s three million lightning flashes per day.

While not all thunderstorms are severe in terms of wind and hail, all thunderstorms create lightning — which means they all need to be respected. About 10 percent of thunderstorms are classified as severe – meaning they produce hail, high winds above 58-miles-per-hour, and can even produce a tornado.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, lightning has killed more than 9,200 people in the United States since the agency began keeping records, making lightning a more frequent killer than both tornadoes and hurricanes.

A single bolt carries with it 100 million volts of power. It’s temperature is 54,000 degrees – five times hotter than the surface of the sun.

AP Photo
AP Photo

Where does lightning come from?

Lightning gets its start from inside cumulonimbus clouds. As the cumulonimbus cloud becomes taller and more mature, negative charges begin to build near the bottom of the cloud. Near the ground, an accumulation of positive charge begins to form. Put them together on opposite ends of the cloud, and you get a bolt of lightning.

“It is the power of electricity that comes to life right in front of us,” Daniel Davis from the Boston Museum of Science said.

How can one stay safe from lightning?

Many will recognize the popular saying — “When it roars, head indoors” — but what if you can’t make it inside? Davis said sitting in cars is safer than standing outside, but lightning can still strike them. And the common belief a car’s rubber tires will protect its occupants? According to Davis, that one is false.

“If lightning manages to punch through miles of air going from the cloud to ground, these few inches of rubber aren’t going to make any difference,” he said.

Other common safety tips include staying away from open fields and large bodies of water.

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