Lightning is a relatively simple phenomenon: a static electrical charge that builds up in a cloud during a storm. Unlike the static electrical shocks you may feel when touching an object after walking across a carpeted floor, these discharges can carry 30,000,000 volts and 30,000 amps. That is enough electricity to light a 100 watt light bulb continuously for three months. The intense electrical discharge can heat the air to 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit (five times hotter than the surface of the sun)! This rapidly heating and expanding air bursts outward from the bolt and is heard as thunder.
Although beautiful, lightning is also deadly. Despite our northern latitude, and the fact that we receive less storms than other states, Michigan still ranks relatively high (seventh) nationwide in lightning fatalities for the 10 year period ending in 2014. The Ann Arbor area recorded the only lightning fatality in the state of Michigan in 2014.
Often people wait too long to seek shelter when a storm is imminent. The National Weather Service (NWS) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) promote a simple slogan about lightning safety: “When thunder roars go indoors.” Rather than guessing the distance to a thunderstorm, this simple slogan reminds us that if you can hear thunder, you are likely within 10 miles of the storm and lightning can easily strike you at that range. In some cases, it has been reported to strike as far as 25 miles from a storm cloud! It’s important to remember you are at risk if you can hear thunder. Continue reading