By Jackie

What Causes Lightning

Lightning is an electrical charge that frames up in some kinds of clouds. It starts when small bits of ice (frozen raindrops) collide into each other in the air. They all make an electrical charge however after a while the entire cloud is filled with the charge. Underneath the cloud electrical charge is also made especially around tall things that stick up such as trees, mountains and people. Sooner or later, the charges from the cloud and the ground meet up and this is where we see lightning.

The Scinetific Explanation

In strong winds ice particles cause storm clouds to collide with each other. As the smaller particles lift to the top of the cloud the bigger ones settle near the bottom. The larger particles are negatively charged while the smaller particles are postively charged during this process. As the negative charge grows at the bottom of the cloud it drives away almost all the negative charge on the ground underneath it. This means almost everything under it is positively charged. As opposites attract eventually the negative and positive charges meet as an electrical current and that is the lightning.

What about thunder?

Thunder is actually made by lightning. When a lightning bolt goes from the cloud to the ground it makes a hole in the air. When the lightning is gone, air collapses into the hole and makes a sound which is called thunder. We see the lightning before we hear the thunder because light travels faster than sound.

Lightning Facts

  • A bolt of lightning can release up to 500 million volts of electricity (In Australia their power plants only give out 240 volts!).
  • Each Lightning bolt is around 27000°C (around three times hotter than the surface of the sun).
  • Australians have a one in 1.6 million chance of getting hit by lightning.
  • There are many different types of strikes including blue jets, sprites, eleves and ball lightning.
  • Lightning can stay in one cloud (intra-cloud), go between two clouds (inter-cloud) or between a cloud and the ground. There are more intra-clouds flashes than other types.
  • You can work out how far a storm is in kilometres by counting the seconds between lightning and its thunderclap, then dividing that number by three.

How to stay safe

If you can hear thunder you're within 16km of a storm. If your hair is standing on end, you could be at danger of being hit by lightning.

Here's how to be careful:

  • Look for shelter. Stay indoors or in a car, but don't go into tents.
  • If your outside, crouch down low- a ditch is a good place to go. Don't stand near tall things like trees and poles, as they can attract lightning. If you're in a group, spread out.
  • Don't touch umbrellas or golf clubs, as they can attract electricity.
  • Don't use electrical appliances and stay off the phone. Unplug power cords.
  • After thunder ends, wait at least half and hour before leaving your shelter.
  • If someone has been hit by lightning, call an ambulance.