They say April showers bring May flowers but this past Wednesday was certainly wild weather with thunder and lightning. Watching the storm left me wondering though, what exactly is going on up in those clouds that causes those flashing lights, thunderous booms and wild winds.
Most of you know that lightning is electricity but do you really know how it occurs? Believe it or not, most scientists can’t agree on how it occurs though they have a general understanding of the process. Basically storm clouds become charged during a storm, and the atoms separate with the positive nucleus moving to the upper portion of the clouds and the negative electrons falling to the lower portion of the clouds, creating an electric field through charge separation. The more separation that occurs the stronger the field becomes. The negative electrons in the lower cloud pushes the negative electrons near the ground deeper into the earth, allowing the earth to become positively charged. This is where a conductive path is made, because as you know, electricity likes to travel between the very conductive negative electrons to the positive ions.
The lower clouds, or negative electrons create step leaders reaching throughout the sky, or pathways through the clouds that a potential bolt might travel. They are created by unequal ionization and can flow in many different directions, with some never even reaching the ground. The ground creates positive streamers which pulls at the step leaders, creating our purplish glow during a bolt. When the two meet, electricity flows creating lightning hotter than the surface of the sun. The heat causes the white color of the bolt and causes the air to expand so quickly it’s compared to an explosion. This explosion causes waves radiating from the strike path and makes thunder.
Overall, this is a pretty interesting natural phenomena that occurs when nature attempts to neutralize changes in the air. And the fact that the process is not completely understood leaves a little wonder to it. But even knowing what I know now, I still think storms are an exciting, thrilling and beautiful part of our weather and I love to watch them. Hope you do too. Just always remember to watch safely.
Our guest Blogger is Rebekah Schimp. She is a dedicated and enthusiastic environmentalist and naturalist with a quick wit and a strong work ethic. She is volunteering with the nature center this spring before she heads off to great adventures out west to track and band migratory song birds. With a strong scientific and creative background she adds an interesting and knowledgeable views on any project.
For more information visit: science.howstuffworks.com or look for John Zavisa’s How Lightning Works.