Weather for Kids – Lightning

History of Lightning

Lightning is considered one of the oldest observed natural phenomena on earth. Ancient people mostly always believed in nature gods. Some ancient people believed that God was responsible for lightning, others believed that angry gods threw lightning bolts from the heavens. 

Do you know that the Early Greeks believed that lightning was a weapon of Zeus? So in the past, no one knew the fact of lightning. By the 1700s scientists proved that lightning is a bright flash of electricity produced by a thunderstorm.

Lightning

is a huge, bright flash of electricity in the atmosphere that happens between the clouds, the air, or the ground. Ice particles and water droplets, which are inside a cloud carry electrical charges, some are positive and others are negative. Air is considered as a barrier between the positive and negative charges in the cloud and between the cloud and the ground.

Lighting usually happens when the opposite charges build up enough in the clouds. To equalize these opposite charges, the positive charges form under the cloud on the ground. The sparkle flash of lightning very fast equalizes the negative and positive charges in the atmosphere until the opposite charges are set up again.

When the electricity from the lightning heats the gases in the air, the gases expand and make a loud noise. The loud noise, which follows lightning is called thunder.

All lightning that is produced from thunderstorms is very dangerous. So if you hear the booming sound of thunder, then you may be in danger. Not all lightning is dangerous. 

Do you know that….!!!
  • Lightning hits the ground 25 million times a year which means about 50 to 100 lightning bolts may strike the Earth every second. 
  • A lightning flash has enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for about 3 months. 
  • Lightning is approximately six times hotter than the surface of the sun!

Lightning Color

Lightning is always bright in white color, but often it’s tinged with another color around the edges. Lightning may come in different colors of the rainbow “Red, Yellow, Green, Cyan, Blue, and Violet”. Lighting color depends on conditions in the clouds and in the air.

The color of a lightning stroke depends on how hot it is and what is in the clouds and in the air. Lightning color starts with red and ends with violet, which is considered the hottest. Let’s see:

  • Yellow or Orange lightning: point out that there is a large concentration of dust in the air.
  • Blue lightning: inside a cloud, points out the presence of hail.
  • Red lightning: inside a cloud, points out the presence of rain.
  • White lightning: indicates that the air has a little amount of moisture “humidity”.

What are Cloud Flashes?

Cloud flashes are lightning that occurs inside the cloud which travels from one part of a cloud to another, or from the cloud to the air.

Thunder

is mainly caused by lightning. When a lightning blot travels from the cloud to the ground it makes a little hole in the air called a channel. At the moment when the light is gone, the air breaks down again and occurs a booming sound of thunder.

Do you know why we see lightning before we hear thunder??????

That’s because light travels faster than sound.

What is a “stepped leader”?

A stepped leader is negatively charged particles that come from the cloud, it moves in many directions trying to find the path of least resistance. Stepped leader speed reached two hundred thousand “200,000” miles per hour.

There are several types of lightning. You can identify the type by what is at the flash channel start and end. Here are some of the lightning types:
Cloud-to-Ground Lightning (CG) 

All of you kids think that Cloud-to-ground lightning comes from the sky, but in fact, it comes from the ground up. It is a channel of a negative charge that is called a stepped leader. It takes the zigzag or forked pattern, so it is sometimes called forked lightning. The stepped leader is not easy to see by eye, it is so fast and travels to the ground in a millisecond. 

When the negative charge of the stepped leader became near the ground it attracts a channel of positive charge “steamer”. It starts moving upward from the ground tries to find tall objects such as a tree, house, or telephone pole. When the charges of leader and streamer connect, a powerful electrical current begins to flow.

Cloud-to-Air Lightning (CA)

Cloud to air lightning occurs when negatively charged air particles are attracted to positive charges inside the cloud. Cloud-to-Ground lightning contains Cloud-to-Air lightning through the branches, which reach the main channel into the mid-air. 

The flashes of Clouds sometimes have visible channels which reached out into the air around the storm but do not strike the ground.

Ground-to-Cloud Lightning (GC) 

It is an invisible channel of electrically charged air moving from the cloud directly to the ground. Its strikes sometimes called upward-moving lightning, they are common on tall structures such as towers and skyscrapers.

How does the Visible Lightning Strike produce?

When a separate channel closes an object on the ground, a powerful wave of electricity from the ground moves upward to the clouds and produces that visible lightning strike.

Do you know that the ground is mainly made up of positively charged particles, and storm clouds have negatively charged particles? Negatively charged in Ground-to-Cloud Lightning follow positively charged particles.

The polarity of the Ground-to-Cloud Lightning can be either positive or negative. Ground to cloud lightning and cloud to ground lightning are nearly the same. The name depends on the flash itself.

Cloud-to-Cloud Lightning (CC) or Intercloud Lightning

Cloud to cloud (CC) or intercloud lightning happens between two clouds, one carries a positive and the other carries a negative charge. These obviously do not strike the ground so they just travel from cloud to cloud.

Intracloud Lightning (IC)

Intracloud lightning is often called “sheet lightning that’s because of the appearance of its discharge lighting, which lights up the sky like a sheet of light. It is the most common type of cloud that mainly occurs inside a cloud and jumps between different charge areas in the cloud.

FRANKLIN’S LIGHTNING ROD

Have you heard about lightning rods one day? Do you know who Benjamin Franklin is?

Who was Benjamin Franklin?

Benjamin Franklin was an American inventor and politician. He had many inventions such as Urinary Catheter, American Celebrity, Swim Fins, The Odometer, American Political, Cartooning, Glass Armonica, Reaching Device, Franklin Stove, Bifocal, Eyeglasses, and the Lightning Rod. Benjamin Franklin was fond of storms and loved to study them. Lightning Rod was one of his great inventions. 

What is the Lightning Rod?

A lightning rod is an external terminal set up in a building or structure. The main purpose of a lightning rod is to attract the lightning to prevent it from striking a building, structure, or people. You can find many types of lighting rods with different characteristics. 

How does the Lightning Rod work?

By the 1700s Benjamin Franklin invented a gorgeous invention called the “ lightning rod”. Before that invention, the houses were burned out from lightning strikes. One day in May 1752 a thunderstorm passed over the village of Marly-la-Ville “Philadelphia” and destroyed many buildings.

Benjamin Franklin was ready for this storm and waited for it. He prepared the tools for his experiment. Here are the tools he used in his invention:

  1. Kite made of silk cord.
  2. Hemp string.
  3. Silk string. 
  4. House key. 
  5. Wire. 

First, Franklin built a simple kite and connected a wire to the top of it. At the bottom of the kite, he tied a hemp string, and silk string. After that Franklin attached the key to the hemp string. Then they waited. Franklin’s son helped him to fly the kite in the air through the thunderstorm.

Franklin noticed that the free threads of the hemp string were upstanding, just as they suspended on a common conductor. Also when he moved his finger close to the key, he felt a spark because the electricity reached the key. The negative charges in the metal piece attracted the positive charges in his hand, so he felt 09othis spark.

From this point, Franklin proved some points:
  • The metal key was electrostatically charged.
  • The clouds were electrically charged.
  • The lightning strikes were large electrostatic discharges.

As a result of this discovery, in 1753 Franklin invented the lightning rod and it became a great invention at that time. Lightning rods saved many houses and structures from destroying and burning.

What is Fulgurite?

Fulgurite is a glassy formation that happed by a lightning strike on sandy soil. The lightning heats the soil and mixes the soil particles, which surround the path of the channel and cause a hollow tube-lined formation shaped like the lightning strike that formed it.

What is the difference between Thunder and Lightning?

Lightning Thunder
MeansThe flashing of light that is produced by a discharge ”positive and negative charge” of atmospheric electricity.The sound that follows lightning because of a sudden expansion of the air in the way of the electrical discharge.
EnergyElectrical energy.Sound energy.
MovementLight travels faster than sound. You can see the lightning first. Lightning is fast and too hot. It is more destructive than thunder.Thunder is slower than lightning. You can see thunder after lightning. Thunder causes heavy rain and strong winds. It is not dangerous as lightning.

Formation
Lightning is formed when water and ice particles hit with warm air and build up static energy. Thunder is formed by the quick expansion of gases in the electrical charge of lightning.

What is Volcanic Lightning?

Volcanic lightning is known as “Dirty Thunderstorms”. It is able to produce some of the most powerful lightning storms on Earth.  

Volcanic eruptions don’t always produce lightning. Just a single eruption can produce multiple or separate lightning storms.  

Scientists discovered that lightning seems to be explosions throughout the eruption, however, not all explosions occur lightning. They also observed that most of the strong lightning happens at the beginning of the eruption and after that lightning progressively less in intensity as the eruption continued, it may take weeks to stop.

Facts about Lightning and Thunder

  • Thunderstorms are always a result of lightning, so you can’t see and hear a thunderstorm without lightning. On the other hand, you can see lightning without a thunderstorm. 
  • Thunder is sometimes called “heat lightning” because it always happens in the summer.
  • Lightning can have 100 million to 1 billion volts and contains billions of watts.
  • Positive lightning is stronger than negative lightning because of its electrical field. And due to its long flash duration and its great peak charge, positive lightning is considered more dangerous than negative lightning.
  • Lightning happens more in the summer due to the humidity in the atmosphere. The land surface is warm in summer, so warm air keeps more water vapor. The water vapor condenses into liquid water cloud drops, the latent heat is released to occur thunderstorm.  Moist and warm air near the surface can cause deep convection that may produce lightning.
  • Thunderstorms are less common in the winter, and sometimes lightning can happen during snowstorms. 
  • Lightning hit the same spot more than one time.
  • Lightning hit taller objects more than shorter objects to produce the upward channel.

What is the 30-30 Rule for Lightning?

It is considered an easy way to determine the lightning in our area. First, if you see lightning start, begin counting to 30. Then, count the seconds between seeing lightning and hearing thunder.

If this second is less than 30 seconds so this lightning is so harmful. At this time you should quickly search for a safe place to hide in.

Lightning Tips for Kids

Here are some tips, which help you to protect yourself from harmful Lightning: 
  • You can protect yourself from harmful lightning by staying indoors during the storm. Indoors means a safe place such as homes, enclosed shelters, offices, and shopping centers.
  • Always follow up the weather forecast to know what’s the news about the weather.
  • During thunderstorms, you should delay any activity outdoors.
  • Don’t forget the 30-30 rule. 
  • If you are stuck in an open area, try hard to find a safe place to stay in. you can get low, sit down, or crunch that may help you to stay safe but not remove you from danger.
  •  If you are stuck outside and there is no safe place to hide, the following actions may remove the danger from you:
  1. If you are in elevated areas such as hills, or peaks, you should leave it instantly.
  2. Don’t lie flat on the ground just crouch down, tuck your head, and put your hands over your ears. 
  3. Don’t stay under a tree.
  4. Don’t stay on a cliff or rocky overhang.
  5. If you are swimming in a pond, sea, or pool, instantly get off the water. 
  6. Don’t stand near objects that conduct electricity such as light poles, barbed wire fences, and power lines that is because lightning can travel through any metal.
  •  Staying at home never indoors protects you from lightning. So f you are indoors “homes”, you should follow these instructions, which keep you safe and reduce your risk of being struck by lightning:
  • Stop using water during a thunderstorm such as a shower, wash dishes or any other activity with water. Lightning can travel through plumbing.
  • Turn off all electronic equipment, lightning can travel through electrical systems such as televisions, iron, air conditions.
  • During thunderstorms do not lie on concrete floors or stand on walls, lightning can travel through metal wires in concrete flooring or walls.

Let’s Do Simple Experiments

1- How to make Lightning at home?
Materials:
  • A low-watt light bulb and a ballon.
Process:
  • Make the room dark by closing the curtains and turning off the lights. 
  • Blowing up the balloon and rub it on your head.
  • The friction builds up an electrical charge just like the inside of the cloud during the storm.
  • Move the balloon closer to the end of the light bulb.
Conclusion: 
  • The light-up is similar to lightning, the negative charge from the ballon leaps across the air and is connected to positive charges inside of the light bulb, that what happened during the thunderstorm from a cloud to another cloud, or from a cloud to the ground.
2- How to Make a Spark?
Materials:
  • Pencil with an eraser.
  • Aluminum tray.
  • Your hair.
  • Styrofoam plate.
  • Thumbtack.
Process:
  • Attach the pencil with an eraser in the center of the aluminum tray by using pushpins.
  • The function of the pencil is to make like a handle “ to lift the aluminum tray”. 
  • Rub the styrofoam with your hair, you should rub it roundly, fast, and so hard for about 3 minutes.
Conclusion:
  • Hold up the aluminum tray by using the pencil handle and putting it on the Styrofoam plate.
  • You will see the spark very clearly as what you see during lightning…Try it yourself…
Common Questions about Lightning

1- What is the speed of lightning?

The flashes of lightning that we see travel at the speed of light “670,000,000 mph”. 

2- Is lightning a fire or air?

Lightning is a brilliant electric spark “fire” discharge in the atmosphere, which occurs during a thundercloud.

3- Is lightning faster than sound?

No, doubt that lightning and thunder occur at the same time. But in fact, we see lightning before hearing thunder because light travels a million times faster than sound. On the other hand, sound takes about five seconds to travel one mile.

4- Is lightning as fast as the speed of light?

No, lightning is not as fast as the speed of light. The speed of light is 299,792,458 meters per second.

5- Is lightning faster than a bullet?

Yes, if we compare lightning speed with bullet speed we will find that lightning is faster than a bullet.

6- Is lightning hotter than the sun?

Yes,  lightning is hotter than the sun, which is 5 times hotter than the surface of the sun. In fact, lightning strikes fall on a tree, it can blow off.

7- Is anything faster than light?

No, there is no object else that can travel faster than lightning.

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