Lightning happens when there is an electrical discharge that happens when a storm is about to happen. This electrical discharge happens between the clouds and the ground or can just happen with the clouds. Most of the lightning that we see happens in the clouds.

Cloud-to-ground lightning in Maracaibo

Sheet Lightening

Sheet lightening is lightning that we see in the distance. When we see a lightening bolt, it is often times happening in the cloud. There are sometimes lightning bolts that look like a bead, a rocket or a ribbon.

Lightning in Belfort

Why Does Lightning Happen?

When a storm comes, different particles such as snow, ice, or even rain collide with the clouds and it causes them to be off balance. Then, when there are objects that are on the ground such as trees and steeples, it causes the negative charge of the storm to become a positive charge. This then causes lightning to form.

What is Lightning?

Lightning is very hot, and one flash can cause the air temperature to heat up to five times its temperature. When the heat surrounds the air, it causes it to vibrate and to expand which makes thunder happen. Sometimes we hear thunder and then a little later, we will see a flash of lightning happen.

Strokes of cloud-to-ground lightning during a thunderstorm

Types of Lightening

There are different types of lightning such as cloud-to-ground lightning. With cloud-to-ground lightening, the bolts are normal, and they strike the Earth around 100 times per second. These bolts of lightening can have up to 1 billion volts of electricity in them.

When cloud-to-ground lightning happens, it is because of negative charges called a stepped leader. The stepped leader goes down from the bottom of the storm cloud and heads towards the Earth at around 200,000 miles per hour. These stepped leaders are around 150 feet long.

When the stepped leader comes close to an object, it causes a positive charge to happen and that is called a streamer. The streamer is what can strike a building, a tree and even a person. When the streamer hits an object, we see a flash that looks like it goes up. This is happening at millions of miles per hour.

The most common type of lightning never leaves the clouds and it just travels between clouds. Other forms of lightning are less common such as ones that cause forest fires, snowstorms and volcanic activity.

Is Lightning Dangerous?

Lightning is dangerous. There are thousands of people that are killed by lightning each year. Many people are struck by lightning but live, but it can cause them to have bad health problems.

Lightning is so hot that it can kill trees because it evaporates all of the water out of the roots.

What is Safe from Lightning?

When lightning strikes a car, it is safe from the lightning because the tires help to carry the charge to the ground so that it is not harmful.

Most houses are also protected from lightning because they are grounded and protected from the bolts of the lightning. Even though most houses are safe, it is unsafe to be in running water or to be on the phone if lightning strikes because it can conduct electricity.

More Facts About Lightning:

  • Buildings that are grounded from lighting are safe to go in during a storm.
  • When lightning hits a tree, it can heat the water in the tree so high that it causes steam and the steam can blow the tree to pieces.
  • 1 in 5,000 people in America are struck by lightning.
  • Most people survive if they are struck by lightning.
  • Lightning that is called positive lightning is much stronger and more destructive than other lightning. It can go more than 10 miles from the storm cloud.
  • Lightning happens because it transfers electricity to other objects.
  • Lightning that happens during thunderstorms kill more people than hurricanes or tornadoes.

What Did You Learn?

  • What is lightning called that we see in the distance?
    Lightning that we see in the distance is called sheet lightning.
  • Where does most lightning stay?
    Most lightning happens in the clouds.
  • What causes lightning?
    When water and vapor hit inside the clouds, it causes them to be off balance and this causes lightning to occur.
  • What are some safe areas from lightning?
    If you are in a car or in your house, you are most likely safe from being struck by lightning.
  • Is lightning hot?
    Lightning is very hot and can travel very far distances.