Question #592

Curtis Anderson, a 13 year old male from Odessa asks on January 25, 2002,

Can you please tell me everything about lightning for my science fair because my e-mail deleted your response?

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The answer

Heather Washburn answered on January 25, 2002

Here is Meteorologist and Oceanographer John Reid's response to a previous question about lightening.

Lightening is a giant spark caused by an electric charge built up in the atmosphere. There is a flash of light and a lot of heat generated. The air around the lightning strike expands rapidly causing thunder. It also stimulates chemical reactions such as the production of ozone and the fixation of nitrogen. There can be devastating consequences where the lightning hits the ground because of the high current flowing and the heat it creates. Houses made of wood can catch fire. Trees can literally explode as the water in them is vaporized by the heat. Many years ago in Germany they thought you could repel lightning by ringing church bells. They stopped doing it because too many church bell ringers kept getting killed by the lightning strike. When people are hit by lightning, they suffer burns and trauma. But sometimes the lightning will move quickly over the surface of the body and injury can be quite light. To avoid being hit by lightning, stay inside. Keep away from phones and other electrical equipment attached to wires that could be struck. If caught outside get into a car if one is nearby. Crawl into low ground. Stay away from trees, particularly isolated ones. If in a large open area get on your knees and tuck your head down so your back is the highest part of you.

Remember, you're much more likely to know someone who won a big lottery prize than someone who was struck by lightning. Try it on your class. Ask how many know people who have been hit by lightning compared to how many know people who won the lottery!

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