Prairie lightning

Lightning: Meaning, Origin, and Definition


The word lightning originates from the Middle English word lightenen (make bright). Lightning is an adjective (as in lightning strike, lightning speed, lightning bolt). Interestingly, Merriam-Webster provides two definitions of the word, the second being “a sudden stroke of fortune” (don’t tell that to someone who’s been too close for comfort or worse, struck by it).

Early detection of lightning – before it strikes – is one of the best ways to stay safe. Even though a storm may appear far away, it may be fast moving or actually closer than your eye can detect. INO Technologies hand-held weather monitor with lightning detection detects lightning up to 40 miles away!

Lightning is the ‘vivid’ flash of light produced by a discharge of atmospheric electricity from cloud to cloud and sometimes from cloud to ground. The typical jagged bolt is just one kind of lightning. Other types include balls, elves, blue jets, and red sprites.

Scientists and physicists still do not know exactly what triggers lightning, but cosmic rays from outer space could hold the key to unlocking this mystery. In ancient times people considered lightning a divine event and that lightning held mystical powers. The Mayans, Romans, and Hindu believed that mushrooms would grow in places where lightning struck.

A typical lightning bolt contains about 15 million volts of electricity so it’s no wonder that the heat produced by a bolt is an astronomical temperature – easily exceeding 100,000 degrees during a strong storm.

Estimates of deadly lightning strikes worldwide vary from 6,000 to 24,000 annually. NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) says that in the U.S., 33 people are killed and an average 234 are injured by lightning strikes annually.