Lightning 101: Shocking Facts About Those Powerful Bolts Of Electricity

As electricians, we decided to blog about lightning, the huge sparks of electricity that we witness during our summer thunderstorms that give us a spectacular light show.

Lightning is formed by the separation of positive (at the top of a cloud) and negative (at the bottom of a cloud) electric charges (if we are talking about intra-cloud lightning). The air between the two charges acts as an electric field. When the negative charge builds up and strengthens, it finds its opposite (positive charge) on the earth to neutralize itself by letting out energy, forming a lightning bolt.

These bolts of electricity can occur between the air, clouds, and even the ground. How lightning is created remains a mystery, with some debate on how the positive and negative charges separate for the cloud to become electrically charged to form a bolt of electricity. Regardless of how clouds initially build up charge, it’s in agreement that there is a separation of these charges that takes place for lighting to strike.   


Lightning Fun Facts

  • The Empire State Building is struck by lightning on average of 23 times per year
  • The metal roof and metal sides of a car are what protect you from a strike, NOT your rubber tires
  • There are 4 types: Intra-Cloud (happens inside of one cloud), Cloud to Cloud, Cloud to Ground, and Cloud to Air 
  • The air surrounding a strike is about 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, 3 times hotter than the sun’s surface
  • 90% of people struck by lighting survive
  • The amount of energy from one lightning bolt can light a 100 watt bulb for 3 months
  • It doesn’t have to occur during thunderstorms, but can occur during: snow storms, dust storms, volcanic eruptions, tornadoes, forest fires
  • You can’t have thunder without lightning because lightning causes thunder
  • NASA data collected from 1995-2013 shows northwestern Venezuela and east of the Democratic Republic of Congo were hit with the most lightning in the world
  • We only see 10-20% of these bolts during a storm. Most occur within the clouds themselves (intra-could)
  • Your chances of being struck: 1 in 600,000 



Safety First When It Strikes

  • Get indoors when you see lightning, or hear thunder: find a building, or car with a metal top. No where outside is safe that will protect you from a strike
  • Do not lie on concrete floors or lean against concrete walls
  • Avoid water: plumbing, sinks, baths, etc.
  • Avoid any direct contact to electricity: electrical equipment, corded phones, computers etc.
  • Stay away from windows, doors, and porches
  • When outside and no shelter is available:
    • Don’t stand under a tree
    • Don’t lie flat on the ground
    • Ball up, keeping your body crouched low with minimal contact to the ground