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The Science Behind: Lightning

When I was a little kid, my best friend's mom told me that lighting was nature's flash. As in the flash of a camera.

It seems quite unbelievable, right? One of the most dangerous phenomena known to man could be disguised as a camera flash!

However, my eight-year-old brain didn't know that lightning was dangerous. Instead, every time it hit, I gave it my very best smile.

I've always thought lightning was more beautiful than deadly, it a phenomenon that falls into the category of 'destructive beauty'

In the U.S there are about 25 million flashes of lightning annually, and each of the flashes has the ability to kill. According to a National Geographic estimate, 2,000 people die every year because of lightning strikes and many are injured.

However, the question on my mind today isn't "Why did I believe that nature has a camera?" Instead, the topics for today are, "How is lightning formed?" and "How dangerous is lightning?"

What is lightning?

According to National Geographic, "Lightning is an electrical discharge caused by imbalances between storm clouds and the ground, or within the clouds themselves. Most lightning occurs within the clouds."

During a storm, particles of rain, ice, and snow collide inside storm clouds, increasing the imbalance between the cloud and the ground. This, often, negatively charges the lower part of the cloud, creating an imbalance between the cloud and the positively charged objects like trees, and steeples. This unevenness is fixed by nature passing currents between the two charges, this current is what we know as lightning.

Did you know: Lightning is hot! A flash can raise the air's temperature to around 5x the temperature of the sun's surface! This causes the air to rapidly expand and vibrate, which forms thunder.


Thunder is the sound we hear after a strike of lightning. Usually, thunder can be heard around a 10-mile radius from a lightning strike. So, if you hear thunder, you're very likely, within striking distance.


Lightning is undoubtedly beautiful, but it is spectacularly dangerous. In the beginning, I mentioned that hundreds of people survive strikes, however, they suffer the consequences- memory loss, dizziness, weakness, numbness, and other illnesses. Getting hit by lightning can cause cardiac arrest and horrible burns.

The extreme heat that lightning creates can vaporize the water in a tree, which can cause a tree to blow apart. Cars, however, are immune to lightning strikes. During lightning storms or anything regarding close proximity to electricity, it is best to stay away from water.

The average temperature of lighting is 20,000 Celcius or 36,000 Fahrenheit.

Bonus Information: Why do some people (like me!) feel more productive/happier during thunderstorms?

Most of my friends know that rainy days/cloudy gloomy weather is my favorite. Though their explanation for this was that, I'm just a dark person, there are actually several psychological reasons that people like me like thunderstorms.

One of the most interesting ones I found is known as the "pink noise phenomenon."However, it is different from "white noise" which helps you sleep. Pink noise helps distract your subconscious without interrupting your work.

Some physiologists argue that our brain constantly craves sensory input, meaning sounds, sights, feelings, tastes, smells, etc.

However, everyday noises like car doors, people shouting, etc don't satisfy our brains, instead, we crave natural sounds- ocean waves, rainforest sounds, and my personal favorite: thunderstorms.

For the author of this article, and myself, silence, a.k.a bright and sunny days, can lead to overthinking. However, when we've got torrential rain or thunder to distract our minds, we're far less anxious and productive.

However, if you absolutely despise rain, and adore sunshine, I'm sure there's a reason for that too.

Until next time...

Stay Curious ;)





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