It never ceases to amaze us some of the weather myths that just won’t go away. We’re talking the lightning can’t strike the same place twice and hiding under an underpass during a tornado types of myths. They aren’t things to take lightly, and not knowing the difference between fact and fiction could be the difference between life and death.
So, let’s talk about some of the most common misconceptions.
Lightning Myth #1: Lightning won’t strike the same place twice
Let’s start with the obvious: lightning can, in fact, hit the same place twice. Actually, the Empire State Building in New York City is struck by lightning about 23 times a year. It’s not even that unheard of that the same building or structure gets struck multiple times in one storm.
Lightning Myth #2: Heat lightning
Ever been outside on a clear evening with no rain or clouds in sight? Then, all of a sudden, you catch a huge flash out of the corner of your eye. How can this be possible?
It’s commonly misstated as heat lightning. There is actually no such thing as heat lightning, and what you’re seeing is the lightning from a far off storm. But that still doesn’t mean you’re safe. Being struck is certainly less likely the further you get from a storm, but you could still be at risk if you are within 20-40 miles of a storm per the National Fire Protection Agency.
Lightning Myth #3: One mile per second
You can tell your distance from a storm by counting the seconds between when you see lightning and hear thunder, but it’s not the way you’ve always been told. Knowing what we know now, sounds like anything less than a minute is within the danger zone. NOAA and the National Weather Service recommend seeking immediate shelter if your count is less than 30 seconds!
The following table is the correct Flash-to-Bang estimations calculated based on the speed of sound at sea level:
|If thunder is heard||The lightning is . . .|
|5 seconds after a flash||1 mile away|
|10 seconds after a flash||2 miles away|
|15 seconds after a flash||3 miles away|
|20 seconds after a flash||4 miles away|
|25 seconds after a flash||5 miles away|
|30 seconds after a flash||6 miles away|
Contrary to popular belief, storms do not always move from west to east. This is an especially dangerous myth when you try to outrun a hurricane, tornado, or any other storm. Some types of storms – like tornadoes – are especially unpredictable to the uninformed victim. Wondering what does drive the direction? The wind and atmosphere, not your compass.
Earlier we mentioned that hiding under an underpass during a tornado is a bad idea. Wondering why? Wind dynamics. Structures like overpasses cause the wind from a tornado to concentrate and become stronger. This probably sounds weird, but have you ever noticed how a light wind can become a whipping force in a corner or alcove? Same idea.
This myth is going to seem inconsequential, but we all know that heat can be a real killer. It turns out wearing white versus black during the summer has no effect on your body temperature. White clothing reflects sunlight and it also reflects your own internal heat. Black absorbs sunlight but it doesn’t transfer it to your body. Ultimately, the best thing to do is wear loose billowy clothing to allow your body to get rid of its own internal heat, minimize the transfer of heat from sunlight, and take full advantage of the science of evaporation.
Finally, dry heat and humid heat are equally dangerous. Your body is still going to react the same way to 105-degree weather. The only difference is that there’s no tricking your body in humid heat. It’s gross, sticky, and undeniably sweaty. Dry heat makes it a little bit easier to forget just how bad we’re straining our bodies. No matter which hot situation you find yourself in, seek shade, rest often, and keep hydrated.
Avoid myths. Carry an INO Weather Pro™.
We know by now your head is probably spinning a little bit with new knowledge (and wondering what else the world has been lying to you about). We developed our INO Weather Pro™ with you and your safety in mind. Keep facts and science close by with real time measurements, distance from ground to lightning strikes, temperature, and more.
You know lightning when you see it, but did you know there are actually many different types of lightning?
Of course, all lightning is an electrical discharge caused by the charge imbalances between clouds and the ground, or cloud to cloud. When this imbalance strikes a tipping point, discharge of high voltage electricity during a short duration ensues.
Get to know the various types of lightning. Sheet lightning vs. forked lightning, cloud to air lightning, ribbon lightning, staccato lightning, cloud to cloud lightning, many types of lightning strikes exist, even cloudless lightning. Depending on numerous factors, including where the lightning originates, where it ends up, and what charge it carries, you can figure out how to identify several different types of lightning.
Touch the Ground for Good Luck
A common way to categorize types of lightning revolves around where the electrical charges are coming from, and where they are going.
At the beginning of cloud-to-ground (CTG) lightning situations, an invisible flow of weakly charged particles (referred to as a stepped leader) zigzag toward the earth in a forked pattern at an impressive speed of 200,000 mph. The stepped leader is essentially searching for the path of least resistance between the cloud and the ground before lightning strikes.
Branches of the CTG lightning are visible.
CTG lightning can be broken down into two primary types of lightning: positive and negative. A negative CTG (-CG) operates through a negatively charged stepped leader. It can be identified through its downward branching strike, which usually consists of multiple “return strokes”, or pulses of current that illuminate the channel again and again.
The -CG is attracted to a streamer, a tall positively charged object—often a tree or a pole. When these two connect, electric current flows toward the cloud at a rate of 60,000 mph. By doing this, the negative charge from the cloud is moved toward the ground in an attempt to create equilibrium.
Branches of the CTG lightning are visible. However, there are many other types of lightning that may not be.
The other group of CTG is positive (+CG). These are usually associated with supercell thunderstorms, as well as the flat rain clouds, or stratiform, that are behind a cold front squall.
Unlike -CG, this type of lightning can often be identified by a lack of branching. Some branching occurs at higher altitude, but for the most part, witnesses are aware of it as a single stroke of intense, bright lightning. It’s also possible to identify +CG by their loud, deep thunder.
The +CGs only account for about one in every 20 CTGs but are stronger and more destructive than -CGs.
+CGs can be identified from the lack of branching.
Consider the Look of Lightning
Though understanding negative and positive CTG is important for the scientist and meteorologist, it is also possible to categorize types of lightning by what you see as an interested observer. In this way, you can identify Staccato and Forked lightning, as well as a Bolt from the Blue.
Staccato lighting is CTG lightning comprising of a single, short-duration stroke, while Forked lightning splits and divides into two or more parts as it approaches the ground—sometimes looking like tree roots.
A “Bolt from the Blue” often travels a relatively large horizontal distance through clear skies from its source cloud. Then, it angles down and strikes the ground. This type of lightning typically comes from cumulonimbus clouds and can travel for miles into cloudless, blue skies before touching down. Hence, its name.
Additionally, when photographing lightning, you can capture Ribbon lightning, which is caused by strong winds blowing stepped leader channels for lighting sideways during the photo exposure.
A Bolt from the Blue can travel horizontally for miles before striking ground.
Lightning that Stays Inside the Cloud
Though CTG comprises the most iconic types of lightning, intracloud lightning is the most common type of lightning. In these cases, instead of electrical charges moving from a cloud to the ground, they simply bounce to a different part of the same cloud, moving to where there is a significant difference in charge.
It’s the same kind of situation that occurs when there are too many people on one side of a boat, and some need to move to the other side to help balance.
This type of lightning is also referred to as “sheet lightning” because it lights up the entire sky like a big, white sheet. However, intracloud should not be confused with cloud-to-cloud lightning.
The sky lights up when Sheet lightning strikes.
Lightning that Jumps From Cloud to Cloud
Cloud-to-cloud lightning is a rare type of lightning where an electrical charge imbalance exists between two or more separate storm clouds. Again, this should not be confused with intra-cloud lightning.
Lightning Into Thin Air
In the case of cloud-to-air lightning, a cloud discharges into the negatively-charged air around it but does not strike the ground or transfer the charge to another part of itself or another cloud. This lightning is often something you might also see when watching CTG lightning, though it can happen independently of CTG lightning strikes. Basically, all branches of CGT lightning that don’t touch the ground can be considered cloud-to-air lightning.
Lightning that Goes the Other Direction
Ground-to-cloud lightning, or upward moving lightning, is the opposite of CTG lightning. This type of lightning occurs when the discharge is initiated by an object on the ground, usually something tall, such as a skyscraper. Like CTG, it can carry a positive or negative charge.
Lightning in the Heat
Though often thought about as a distinct type of lightning, heat lightning is nothing more than one of the other types of lightning flashing very far away. In these cases, it is possible to see the lightning, but you don’t hear anything. You can’t hear anything because of how far away the storm is. Regardless of whether or not you can hear it, there is always thunder when there is lightning.
Heat lightning got its name because it often occurs during hot summer nights. It’s also a pretty good indicator that a storm is coming your way. Of course, no indicator is quite as accurate as a pocket-sized INO Weather Pro weather monitor, which gives you the capability of detecting lightning up to 40 miles away.
Though you might not hear the thunder when you see heat lightning, it’s definitely there.
Who Knows Sprites and Jets?
Large thunderstorms are capable of producing rare phenomena known as transient luminous events (TLEs). Though TLEs are not well understood by scientists, they have identified two types: red sprites and blue jets.
Sprites appear as vertical red columns above a cloud. They are fairly weak flashes of light that cannot be seen by the human eye. Blue jets, however, can be seen with the naked eye. Though they come from the top of a thunder cloud, there are records of pilots witnessing these strange TLEs.
Knowing The Various Types of Lightning
Though several types of lightning are not actually dangerous to people, it is important to be aware of all types of lightning and take precautions. For example, when witnessing CTG lightning, it is especially important to remain in a safe place.
It turns out that the average American has a one in 5,000 chance of being struck by lightning, while more than 2,000 people each year are killed by lightning. Though a few hundred survive being struck by lightning and are able to tell us what it feels like to be hit by lightning, it’s best to exercise caution and educate yourself about these power surges of electricity.