Lightning Strikes: Common but Complex

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There is no reason to be alarmed about lightning strikes!

So says Senior Meteorologist at the Barbados Meteorological Services, Clairemonte Williams. His comments came during an interview with the Barbados Government Information Service about the recent thunder showers the island has been experiencing.

Mr. Williams said that although many persons are afraid of being struck by lightning, only about 20 per cent of strikes happen between cloud and ground. ???The majority of lightning strikes occur within clouds, from one cloud to another, from cloud to surrounding air or from cloud to the ground,??? he explained.

He noted that at this time of the year, conditions are often favourable for thunderstorm activity. ???It???s not unusual therefore, to see the sky illuminated with sparks of natural light, a common occurrence known simply to us [meteorologists] as ???lightning.???

Mr. Williams defined this phenomenon as a ???complex process???. ???Lightning is a visible discharge of electricity which occurs in mature thunderstorms???These thunderstorms contain regions of positively charged and negatively charged particles, which, under certain conditions, will interact to create the lightning stroke.???

Pointing out that there is a relationship between lightning and thunder, he added: ???The lightning stroke heats the air to about 30,000 degrees Celsius, causing the air to expand explosively. This then creates a shock wave that produces a booming sound wave known as ???thunder???.

???Because light travels at the astounding speed of 300,000 kilometers per second, we can see the lightning flash almost immediately. However, sound travels at the much slower rate of 330 miles per second. This is why thunder takes much longer ???to reach the ear.???

???As a general rule, it takes about five seconds for the sound to travel a mile, so if we start counting seconds from the time we see lightning until we hear the thunder, we can average how far away the activity is occurring???For example, if we see lightning and hear the thunder 15 seconds later, then the lightning stroke occurred about three miles away,??? the Senior Meteorologist explained.

He added that when lightning is seen, but thunder is not heard, it is ???due to the atmosphere refracting (bending) and attenuating (depleting) the sound wave, making the thunder inaudible.???

shayla.murrell@barbados.gov.bb

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