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Like a Bolt Out of the Blue!

June 22, 2014

Lightning strikes the ocean far to the south of Devereux Beach. 

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When you think of summer, you may think of warm days, flowers, and summer vacations—unless you are a weather nut.

If you are, like me, a weather addict, then you cheerfully look forward to Nature’s light shows. Summer is lightning season, when the skies will flash and roar. Lightning strikes more than 40–50 times a second during June, July and August. The skies rock and roll and—yes—it can be dangerous.

Summertime is lightning season. Source: NOAA

What you are watching are spectacular electric sparks. Just as you build up static charges when you shuffle your feet along a carpet, so the collision of ice and slush churning in a thundercloud builds up charges. The slush near the bottom of the cloud builds up a negative charge while the tiny ice crystals carried to the top become positive. Finally, the charges equal out, just like that irritating spark that stings you when you touch something. The charge flows somewhere and about 25% of the timeBANG!it hits the ground.

That’s where it can get dangerous. But some places are more dangerous than others. Kifuka in the African Democratic Republic of the Congo averages 410 lightning strikes per square mile every year. In North America, the champion is the Tampa-Orlando area with 91 flashes per square mile. Even then, statistics show that not all people face the same risks. Little old ladies are safe, but guys between the ages of 20 and 30 seem to be lightning rods.

If you are a young man in Florida, lightning is not your friend! Source: NOAA

The rules for safety in lightning storms are basic. Be smart enough to get out of the rain if you hear thunder. If you are outside, avoid being the highest object anywhere—or taking shelter near or under the highest object, including tall trees. Cars are relatively safe shelters. Remember, the 4th of July is historically one of the most deadly times of the year for lightning in the U.S. Enjoy the light shows, but stay safe!

Enjoy Nature’s light show, but stay safe! Source: NASA

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Evelyn Browning Garriss, historical climatologist, is a longtime writer for The Old Farmer's Almanac. She is also editor of The Browning World Climate Bulletin and has advised farmers, businesses, and investors worldwide on upcoming climate events and their economic and social impact for the past 21 years.

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