Everything you need to know about lightning and its incredible close-up impacts

Incredible videos capture the exact moment when lightning strikes close to who is recording.


We have all witnessed how while it is raining hard, you can see a great flash in the sky and a few seconds later there is a roar, capable of deafening anyone as the storm is closer, this phenomenon is caused by a large electrical discharge that originates during the crossing of positive earth particles, with negative particles from the clouds, generating an electromagnetic pulse.

Most of the time this phenomenon is seen from faraway places, where the shape of the electrical discharge is not appreciated, only clouds are seen being illuminated by a powerful blue light, this happens because most of the rays are generated between the clouds and do not reach the earth.

However, many times this phenomenon can go from the clouds to the ground without warning, taking into account the statistics we can know that every second 40 lightning strikes and there are about 2,000 storms discharging their energy at a time on the planet, according to data accumulated by NASA. In total, there are more than 1.2 billion rays produced per year in the world, especially on the continents, in the equatorial zone and in the great mountainous regions.

There is a belief that different terms can be used to describe the phenomenon, however, it must be taken into account that each one represents a specific condition, since all these rays are not generated or fall in the same way.

Lightning is an electrical discharge that occurs in the midst of a storm, and meteorologists distinguish between several types: cloud to ground lightning, in which case the electrical discharge reaches the earth’s surface; ground to cloud lightning, a discharge between the earth’s surface and the storm cloud; and, finally, cloud to cloud lightning, which is very common and occurs between clouds that are not in contact with the ground.

Bad luck is full of electricity

Although the probability of being struck by lightning is minimal and is set at 1 in 10,000 possibilities, its range, if any, can be lethal. It is estimated that more than 20,000 people are killed by lightning each year worldwide, including fire deaths, explosions and other consequences caused by lightning. However, approximately 250,000 people a year are reached by the phenomenon and survive to tell the tale.

When lightning strikes a person directly, a large amount of energy passes through the body in a very short time. Its impact is so brutal that electric shock can lead to severe burns, heart problems or even the loss of a limb. In less than a second, the beam can reach temperatures approaching 28,000°C, about five times the surface temperature of the sun.

It is also very interesting to know that lightning will strike the place that offers the least resistance, so if the resistance of our skin is high enough, the impact of the current can pass around the clothing and go directly to ground without causing significant damage.

Believe it or not, if we are suddenly caught in a thunderstorm and have to seek shelter, the safest place is in a car with the windows closed, especially if we are in the middle of the mountain, near the sea or at a very high altitude. This is due to “the Faraday Cage” effect which causes electricity to pass only through the metal surface of the vehicle until it touches the ground.

Water conducts electricity, so we should never bathe in a swimming pool or sea during a thunderstorm, because when a discharge occurs in the water, and we are submerged in it, the impact will affect us as much as if we had been directly struck by lightning.

To get a basic idea of the dimensions of a lightning bolt, it is generally just over a kilometre long, although there are records of a lightning bolt that occurred during a thunderstorm in Texas and reached 190 km in length, a record.

Lightning can reach an average speed of 440 km/sec, but when the particle crossover is very large and the storm has strong winds in between, they can register speeds of up to 1400 km/sec.

The tattoos left by lightning strikes

The process of a person’s recovery after being struck by lightning is dramatic; almost all people who survive the impact experience serious changes and damage to their body and mind. The skin shows a series of tattoo-like shapes, known as “Lichtenberg figures”, caused by the rupture of capillary vessels under the skin.

These markings have a branched shape, identical to what can be seen when lightning strikes in the sky. Lichtenberg’s figures are the physical and palpable consequence of the powerful electrical discharge of lightning. Their appearance is similar to that of a tattoo done with the scarification technique, they only last a few hours or a few days, and then they disappear.

Incredibly, just under a century ago lightning was a common cause of death, but education has made most people today understand the dangers of being outdoors, on water or near trees during a thunderstorm. But there can still be a danger before the storm, and also after it ends, as the particle crossover is likely to continue.

There are other curious and surprising cases related to lightning, such as this one that occurred in Germany during a thunderstorm. A lightning bolt struck a large tree 20 meters from the window of an old house, where Luciano Mena was sitting on the second floor, the shock wave of the electric shock knocked him down from the chair, and caused him an intense earache for a few seconds, although he did not suffer any damage.




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