Mother Nature is amazing. I have always been fascinated by lightning and my annual trip to Southern Utah this year didn’t disappoint. There was visible lightning practically every day. The summer monsoon weather brought in rain and hail which resulted in flash floods and a plethora of lightning shows.
Lightning is the result of rain and ice dancing inside a thundercloud. Their movement creates an electrical charge. The positive charges hang out at the top of the cloud while the negative charges hang out at the base. When there is an imbalance in the charges, the negative charges “look” for a positive charge with which to connect. That positive charge may be a building, a tree, or even a person.
When the negative charge becomes very strong, it starts incrementally reaching down ( a “stepped leader”) and a positive charge below starts reaching up (a “streamer”). When the two charges are within 150 feet of each other, they connect creating a channel of electricity about the width of a thumb. The transfer of electricity between the charges is lightning. Because it transfers millions of volts of electricity, the air around it expands and vibrates, creating thunder.
It happens so quickly (within 1-2 microseconds) that the naked eye cannot clearly see the positive charge reaching up to meet the negative. Lightning is most exciting when it reaches down, but it also strikes within the cloud and between clouds.
Cruise ships often have a lightning rod so that the negative charge has a safe place to connect with, leaving passengers off of mother nature’s radar. When you are vacationing in a place where lightning is a-glowing, it’s best to stay indoors during the storm. If you are on the road, stay in your car and let your vehicle (and it’s rubber tires) protect you. Otherwise, humans are an easy conduit for electricity.
According to National Geographic, approximately 2,000 people die from being struck by lightning every year. Those who do survive often have long term physical weakness or memory loss. While the likelihood of being struck is low, I prefer to stay indoors when the weather is rough. Wait for that gorgeous sunset after the clouds clear.
Photos were provided by my good friend and photographer, Brian Knott, of Forget Me Knott Photography. Brian lives in Southern California and travels around the globe to get the best shots. Aside from amazing landscapes, Brian also photographs special events, most recently working with the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. Check out more of his work at http://www.forgetmeknottphotography.com. You can also see his latest adventures on the Forget Me Knott Photography Facebook page. If you are ever at the Zion National Park Visitor Center, you can also pick up prints and magnets of his work. (His photos are some of their best sellers!)