Flash Facts

It’s time for a news flash, or at least a lightning flash.

The folks at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) tell me that lightning flashes more than three million times a day around the world. That’s about 40 flashes per second. Not all of those flashes hit the ground and those flashes are pretty quick—lasting only about 30 microseconds.

And there are plenty of factors that affect those flashes, including ground elevation, wind currents, humidity, latitude, and the proximity to warm and cold bodies of water. Putting all of those factors aside, here are my favorite flashes of lightning facts I picked up while working on my NC Science Now story A Flash of Lightning.

  1. The odds of being struck by lightning in the United States in any one year are one in 700,000. The odds of being struck during your lifetime are one in 3,000.

  2. You can get quite a charge from lightning. The spark can cover almost five miles and raise the air temperature by almost 54,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The lightning bolt can contain one hundred million electrical volts.

  3. All of that energy travels a path that is only as wide as a couple of fingers. It looks so much wider because it is so bright.

  4. The place where lightning occurs most often is near the small village of Kifuka, in the mountains of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. The region receives 158 lightning strikes per 1 square kilometer.

  5. The science of lightning is fulminology.

  6. The fear of lightning is called astraphobia.

  7. Rubber-soled shoes will NOT protect you from lightning. In general, lightning travels the easiest route from the cloud to the ground, which means it usually strikes the tallest object. The best protection is not be the tallest object around or to stand near the tallest object. That means don’t stand in an open field, on a beach, on a boat, or near a tree or flagpole.

— Frank Graff

Frank Graff is a producer/reporter with UNC-TV, focusing on North Carolina Science Now, a weekly science series that airs Wednesdays, beginning in August 2013, as part of North Carolina Now on UNC-TV. In addition to producing these special segments, Frank will provide additional information related to his stories through this North Carolina Science Now Reporter's Blog!

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