Lightning Facts and Fiction

Thunderstorm cloud, central Kansas


Observing the lightning within a thunderstorm, especially a severe thunderstorm is an awesome site to behold. A few nights ago while staying in central Kansas I had the opportunity to view several simultaneous severe thunderstorms which were producing stunning lightning in a continuous non-stop light show.

I observed the enormous towering cumulus clouds during the late afternoon as they were rapidly building into billowing pillars of bubbling frothing shades of white and gray. As the classic anvils formed on top of the two side-by-side distinct storms, I knew it was going to be a fun show…


Sure enough, as the sun began to set, the lightning became visible all around and within the thunderheads. It was a remarkable show of weather and the scientific charging mechanism of colliding ice crystals with pellets of snow and ice within the towering storm cloud until the building energy discharges into violent flashes of electricity, light, and exploding air (thunder).

Almost all lightning deaths have occurred OUTDOORS.
-running to shelter
-watching the storm
-riding on a lawnmower
-playing sports
-mountain climbing
-riding horses
-standing under a tree
-loading a truck

Weather Alert Radio

Lightning Fiction: The rubber tires on a car or the rubber soles of shoes will protect you from being struck by lightning.

Lightning Fact: Rubber-soled shoes or rubber tires provide NO protection from lightning. It is the steel frame of a hard topped vehicle that provides increased protection if you are not touching the metal. While you may be injured by lightning if it strikes your car, you are much safer inside a vehicle than outside.

Lightning Fiction: If it is not raining, there is no danger from lightning.

Lightning Fact: Lightning often strikes outside of heavy rain and may occur as far as 10 miles away from any rainfall!

Lightning Fiction: “Heat lightning” occurs after very hot summer days and poses no threat.

Lightning Fact: “Heat lightning” is a term used to describe lightning from a thunderstorm too far away for the thunder to be heard.


Lightning Facts

There is no safe place outdoors when a thunderstorm is nearby.

The vast majority of lightning victims were going to a safe place but waited too long before seeking safe shelter.

The channel of air through which lightning passes can be heated to 50,000 degrees-F, hotter than the surface of the sun!

The rapid heating and cooling of the air near the lightning channel causes a shock wave that results in the sound we know as “thunder”.

Lightning causes an average of 55-60 fatalities and 400 injuries each year.

Lightning occurs with all thunderstorms.

Lightning causes more than $1 billion in insured losses each year.


How Far Away is the Lightning?

Count the number of seconds between a flash of lightning and the sound of the resulting thunder.

Divide this number by 5 to get an estimate of the distance in miles to the lightning strike.

Note: If you’re outdoors and can hear thunder, you’re in danger of being struck by lightning.
Note: Only YOU can make the decision to seek safety.
Note: An important tool to warn of severe weather is a weather alert radio.

Midland WR120 NOAA Weather and All Hazard Public Alert Radio

Related article: The Best Weather Alert Radio

Some of the facts listed above sourced from NOAA’s “Thunderstorms, Tornadoes, Lightning… Preparedness Guide”


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