Weather flash: That’s lightning!

Lake Maracaibo: The world's top lightning hotspot is over Lake Maracaibo in northwestern Venezuela. Here, nocturnal thunderstorms occur on average about 297 days per year and produce an average of about 232 lightning flashes / square kilometer / year. Local people have called this phenomenon "Relámpago del Catatumbo" (Catatumbo lightning) for hundreds of years. Image by NASA.
Lake Maracaibo: The world's top lightning hotspot is over Lake Maracaibo in northwestern Venezuela. Here, nocturnal thunderstorms occur on average about 297 days per year and produce an average of about 232 lightning flashes / square kilometer / year. Local people have called this phenomenon "Relámpago del Catatumbo" (Catatumbo lightning) for hundreds of years. Image by NASA.

Last night from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. quite the lightning show occurred beginning in Liberty County, edging west into Harris/Montgomery and south into Chambers and the Bay! Here are a few pics from Click2Pins:

From Ryan Woods on Click2pins
From Joy on Click2pins
From Tony Cratty on Click2pins

Rainfall was generally less than an inch so much of this would be considered ‘dry lightning’ meaning the rain evaporated with the storms before reaching the ground (not that there wasn’t any!).

This brings up a few other lightning facts to share with you:

What is HEAT lightning?

This is ordinary lightning, it’s just far away. However, there is what is called “pulse lightning” that jumps from cloud to cloud rather than cloud to ground.

Speaking of far away, how do you tell how far you are from lightning?

When you see the bolt, start counting seconds...1-2-3....and so on. Stop when you hear the thunder. For each 5 seconds, the lightning is 1 mile away. I’ve actually never gotten past 10 seconds, or two miles. ALL lightning causes thunder, by the way, which is really a sonic boom created by rapidly heating the air.

So how HOT is lightning?

About 54,000 degrees -- about five times hotter than the surface of the sun. But keep in mind that the core of the sun is around 27 million degrees, so don’t ever say lightning is hotter than the sun. It’s not, but it is hotter than the surface of the sun!

Am I safe outside on a mobile phone if lightning is nearby?

I know a lot of parents are checking my app during outdoor sports games, so this is a good question and the answer is Yes and No -- you’re never safe outside when lightning is nearby! “When thunder roars, get indoors.” However, mobile phones do not attract lightning. And if you’re checking my app for storms and lightning, keep in mind that the app can tell you where the lightning is, but no app can tell you where lightning is going or when it will strike.

Am I safe with rubber sole tennis shoes?

Are you kidding? It’s not even the rubber tires on your car that protect you from lightning strikes, it’s the outside metal the car is made of that safely conducts lightning to the ground through the axle and tires. And if you’re on a commercial plane, any lightning strike will travel around the metal exterior and safely dissipate into the air. Rubber soles are just comfortable, that’s it.

Where am I safe? OR not safe?

You are safe inside a safe structure! Not a tent or under a tree or even under your outside porch. Of course, trees are tall and lightning does seek out the tallest structure but where it actually strikes isn’t determined until it’s fairly close to the ground (100-150′) so lightning can easily strike a shorter tree, porch roof, or housetop. Look at what happened in the Spring/Tomball area a couple of weeks ago and you’ll see the trees nearby are just as tall. Lightning did this:

Photo by Kristi Braun-MacLeod

No one was hurt, but this shows you the power of lightning and even in your home you are vulnerable.

So watch those storms from a distance, be smart, and keep sending me pictures on Click2Pins!

Frank

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About the Authors:

KPRC 2's chief meteorologist with three decades of experience forecasting Houston's weather.

Amanda Cochran is an Edward R. Murrow award-winning journalist. She specializes in Texas features, social media news and local crime.