In the midst of a bizarre winter, Montrealers were treated to a rare sight on Monday night — a winter thunderstorm. Montrealers Jolyane Limoges and Pierre-Marc Doucet managed to capture the phenomenon during a snow squall, and post it on YouTube. The phenomenon is known as thundersnow — it's like a normal thunderstorm, but with snow as the primary form of precipitation. Thundersnow events happen when a mass of cold air settles on top of warm air, coupled with moist air closer to the ground.
How Hot Is Lightning?
Lightning is one of the most destructive forces in nature. But for all the folklore and legends amassed over human history on lightning, we know surprisingly little about the inner workings of this powerful phenomenon, including something as simple as how the current that flows through a thunder-inducing flash is related to the temperature of the strike.
"The basic physics of lightning, such as lightning initiation and lightning propagation, is not fully understood at this point," said Robert Moore, a lightning researcher from University of Florida in Gainesville.
"We know the basics, but not the details. So when anybody makes headway, it is major news."
Lightning causes more than $5 billion in damages every year in the U.S., as well as more fatalities than hurricanes.
"A direct hit from a lightning strike can melt a power cable or start a forest fire, where the amount of heat from the lightning plays a major role," said Xiangchao Li, a scientist from China who specializes in lightning research. Li and his team discovered a mathematical relationship between the current intensity and the temperature inside lightning. Their result was published last month in the journal Scientific Reports.
Although there are approximately 100,000 lightning strikes on Earth every single day, the randomness of the occurrences makes it difficult for scientists to study them in an effective or systematic way. So until Thor, the Norse god of lightning as well as other meteorological events, joins a lightning research team, scientists are left to their own devices.
Luckily such a device does exist. Known as an impulse current generator system, the device can create artificial lightning with currents up to tens of thousands of amperes. For perspective, a household or automotive fuse is usually rated well below a hundred amperes, and an electric current of just a few amperes can easily kill you. A natural lightning strike typically carries around 20-30,000 amperes of current. Certainly there are other factors such as size and setting of natural lightning that cannot be replicated in a laboratory, but just in terms of sheer current output, the lightning generated by the device can really give Thor a run for his money.
By using their artificial lightning system, Li and his team were able to dial up lightning strikes at will, with currents between 5,000 to 50,000 amperes. This resulted in artificial lightning strikes with temperatures as high as 17,000 F, twice as hot as the surface of the Sun.
This creates a new problem -- at such high temperatures, a normal thermometer would explode. And even if it didn't, it wouldn't react quickly enough to register the temperature of the lightning strike. Fortunately, there is "light" in "lightning." Li and his team were able to record the lightning's temperature within a millisecond by measuring the intensity of the light at various wavelengths.
After striking lightning at the same place over and over again, they concluded that the relationship between the current and temperature of lightning is a highly logarithmic one, meaning that the temperature difference between lightning strikes with 1,000 and 10,000 amperes is similar to those with 10,000 and 100,000 amperes. This result provides solid evidence for previous theoretical predictions that lacked the support of data.
"The next step would be to compare with measurements from rocket triggered lightning, or natural lightning, which can be done throughout the U.S. or China," Moore suggested.
That's right, rocket-triggered lightning. Essentially a glorified version of Benjamin Franklin's wired kite, scientists today have ways to siphon natural lightning from the sky by launching an electrically grounded rocket, as shown in the video below.
With a better understanding of the physics of lightning, scientists can help engineers to improve current protocols and infrastructures to better deal with lightning -- from weather warning systems to the design of power grids. Perhaps we can one day limit the power of Thor to only smiting Loki on the silver screen.
..that ship-emitted particles and increase lightning?
MODERN, broad-beamed merchant vessels are well able to withstand the rough and tumble of the waves, but sailors still prefer to avoid storms at sea if they can. Containers may come loose in heavy weather and there is always a chance of lightning knocking out communications. It is therefore ironic that some storms may be caused by ships themselves. That, at least, is the conclusion reached by Joel Thornton of the University of Washington, in Seattle, and his colleagues in a paper just published in Geophysical Research Letters. They demonstrate that lightning strikes the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea almost twice as often along shipping lanes as it does other areas of these waters.
Dr Thornton and his team considered 1.5bn strikes recorded in this part of the world by the World Wide Lightning Location Network (an international collaboration led by Dr Thornton’s colleague, Robert Holzworth) between 2005 and 2016. As the map shows, those strikes that happened over the ocean were concentrated in places most plied by ships. In particular, the shipping lane that passes from the south of Sri Lanka to the northern entrance of the Straits of Malacca, and thence down the straits to Singapore, positively glows with lightning. (Its westward extension to the Suez canal was outside the study area.) So do the lanes from Singapore and the western part of Malaysia that head north-east across the South China Sea.
Neither changes in vertical wind shear nor differences in horizontal air movements seem likely to be causing this concentration of thunderstorms, for other measurements suggest that these weather-modifying phenomena are the same inside shipping lanes as they are in neighbouring parts of the atmosphere immediately outside those lanes. Nor does it seem plausible that the ships themselves (admittedly made of metal, and also the tallest structures on what is otherwise a flat surface) are responsible for attracting all the extra strikes involved. Though the area of the lanes is small compared with the whole ocean, it is vast compared with the area actually occupied by vessels. Most of the extra bolts are hitting the sea rather than craft sailing across it.
The most likely explanation is particulate pollution emitted by the ships using the shipping lanes. Marine diesel burned offshore is generally high in sulphur, and its combustion produces soluble oxides of that element which act as nuclei for the condensation of cloud-forming droplets. Typical marine clouds in unpolluted areas are composed of large droplets and do not rise to high altitude, but Dr Thornton and his team reckon that smaller droplets, of the sort that condense around oxides of sulphur, might more easily be carried upward by convection—forming, as they rose, into towering storm clouds that would act as nurseries of lightning bolts.
As to what can be done about this extra lightning, change may already be in hand. At the moment, standard “bunker” fuel has an average sulphur content of 2.7%. From 2020 that should fall to 0.5% if refiners and shipowners obey rules being introduced by the International Maritime Organisation, the body responsible for trying to impose order on the world’s shipping.
Ships are also being sailed more efficiently, often by slowing them down, which reduces the amount of fuel consumed per nautical mile. That is how Maersk Line—one of the world’s biggest container-ship operators—has cut its fleet’s fuel consumption by 42% since 2007.
On top of this, ship propulsion is becoming more efficient, as heat-recycling systems and new types of engine are introduced. In a few decades, therefore, the storminess of shipping lanes may have returned to normal. In the meantime, for any who may doubt humanity’s ability to affect the weather, Dr Thornton’s work provides strong evidence that it can.
This article appeared in the Science and technology section of the print edition under the headline "Brimstone and fire"
Why is lightning white?
Static charges form in a storm composed of ice crystals and liquid water drops. Turbulent winds inside the storm cause particles to rub against one another, causing electrons to be stripped off, making the particles either negatively or positively charged.
The charges get grouped in the cloud, often negatively charged near the bottom of the cloud and positively charged up high. This is an electric field and because air is a good insulator, the electric field becomes incredibly strong. Eventually a lightning bolt happens and the flow of electrons neutralizes the electric field.
This flow of electrons through the lightning bolt creates a very hot plasma, as hot as 50,000 degrees, that emits a spectrum of electromagnetic energy. Some of this radiation is in the form of radio waves and gamma rays.
Instruments that measure these electromagnetic waves allow us to detect lightning bolts that are very far away. Visible light is also part of the spectrum of energy.
At these temperatures, laws of physics state that most of the visible light will be at a wavelength perceived as the color blue, although all wavelengths will be emitted.
The notion of color applies to our perception of what we see, not to the light itself. When we talk about the color of light, we really mean the color we sense with our eyes and then interpret with our mind.
Thus, while the peak energy is at blue wavelengths, the intensity of all the colors tends to saturate our eyes, leading us to perceive the color white – which includes all wavelengths in the visible spectrum.
Over the last 20 years scientists have discovered that lightning also shoots upward out of the top of thunderstorms into the upper atmosphere. These lightning types have distinctive colors, including red sprites and blue jets.
Which are the places more likely to be struck by lightning?
The place most likely to be struck by lightning in the world is one spot above Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela, according to new data. Over this mountain lake, there was a lightning show an astounding 297 days out of 365 days a year, on average. Even more surprising, the lightning strikes didn't occur just over the massive lake, but at one particular spot -- the point where the lake empties into the Catatumbo River, researchers said Dec. 14 at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union.
Lightning Makes For A Terrible Renewable Energy Source
Lightning is an impressive, energetic force of nature — so why aren't we using all that raw power to run our homes? Two reasons:
For one thing, lightning is unpredictable and really, really fast.
The second part of the answer: It's hot and loud and bright, but lightning doesn't carry as much energy as you might think.
What was that strange light in the sky?
Many people overnight reported seeing strange lights in the sky, a phenomenon that has been reported for centuries before, during, and after earthquakes.
Seismologists aren't in agreement about the causes of the hotly-debated phenomenon - called earthquake lights or, sometimes, earthquake lightning.
And, of course, it's not clear whether the lights overnight in New Zealand were the phenomenon, or something else.
One theory suggests dormant electrical charges in rocks are triggered by the stress of the Earth's crust and plate tectonics, transferring the charge to the surface where it appears as light.
Historical reports include globes, or orbs, of glowing light, floating just above the ground or in the sky.
Much like tidal research, it is an area that is notoriously difficult to investigate. Tidal stresses and their effects on the Earth are minute, but measurable, although many seismologists remain unconvinced by theories of "tidally triggered" earthquakes.
With "earthquake light", the phenomenon is also notoriously difficult to observe, study, and measure.
GNS seismologist Caroline Holden said there were anecdotal reports of lights in the sky.
"Unfortunately, we cannot measure this phenomena or its extent with our instruments to provide a clear explanation," she said.
The phenomenon has been documented for centuries.
Hypotheses have suggested the movement of rocks could generate an electric field, others suggest quakes can lead to rocks conducting electromagnetic energy and a subsequent build up of electric charges in the upper atmosphere.
Yet another theory suggests a link between the electric charge, or current, released by the earth ripping and buckling below the surface, and the magnetic properties of rock.
The charge appears as light, so the theory goes.
People reported similar strange lights in the sky during the 2011 Christchurch earthquake.
In 1888, before a large quake around the Hanmer region, a strange glow in the sky was reported by observers.
One recent study documented hundreds of sightings of strange light, glowing, and aurora-like reports, from 1600 to the 19th century.
The study in the Seismological Research Letters suggested a charge builds up in rock inside the Earth's crust and, as it becomes rapidly unstable in a quake, expands outward.
In an earthquake, the electrical charge transfers from below the surface to the surface, or above, depending on the conductivity of the rock - appearing as light.
"When such an intense charge state reaches the Earth's surface and crosses the ground–air interface, it is expected to cause [an electric transmission and breakdown] of the air and, hence, an outburst of light.
"This process is suspected to be responsible for flashes of light coming out of the ground and expanding to considerable heights at the time when seismic waves from a large earthquake pass by."
The study said some seismologists also think the theory could account for other phenomena, such as changes to electrical fields, strange fog, haze, clouds, and low-frequency humming or radio frequency emission.
In the study, the researchers found the light was more often associated with a type of quake in which tectonic plates are wrenched apart, known as a "rift" earthquake
All 11 members of a football team were killed by a lightning bolt during a match.
All 11 members of a football team were killed by a bolt of lightning at during a match in the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to a Congolese newspaper that reported the incident, the other team was left unharmed!
A United States park ranger was hit by lightning on seven different occasions and survived all of them. He died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound at the age of 71 over an unrequited love!
Roy Cleveland Sullivan was a United States park ranger in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Between 1942 and 1977, Sullivan was hit by lightning on seven different occasions and survived all of them. For this reason, he gained a nickname "Human Lightning Conductor" or "Human Lightning Rod". Sullivan is recognized by Guinness World Records as the person struck by lightning more recorded times than any other human being. He died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound at the age of 71 over an unrequited love.
More than 400 people were killed in southern Egypt when lightning struck a depot's fuel tanks.
More than 400 people were killed in southern Egypt, most of them when blazing fuel flooded into a village from a depot struck by lightning in a rainstorm. Lightning struck the depot's eight fuel tanks toward the end of the storm that raged across much of Egypt for up to five hours.
The plane carrying the Spanish national football team home from the World Cup in Brazil was struck by lightning on the 22nd of June 2014!
The plane carrying the Spanish national football team home from the World Cup in Brazil was struck by lightning on the 22nd of June 2014 as it approached its landing in Madrid, adding to the streak of bad luck the team seemed to be on after its World Cup defeat.
Struck by lightning but died drawing.
A 21-year-old man drowned at sea following a lightning strike as he was returning to shore in a boat after a fishing trip on Sunday, 17/01/2016. Ng Young Ching had apparently fallen into the sea in the vicinity of the Sungai Ayam Lighthouse in Senggarang near Batu Pahat at about 5pm as he was returning to the Sungai Ayam fishing jetty, Batu Pahat Maritime Base maritime enforcement chief Lt Commander (Maritime) Muhammad Zulkarnain Abdullah said yesterday.
Lightning knocked out Internet on Cayman’s Island!
A lightning strike along one of the submarine cables that connects Cayman’s Internet to the rest of the world knocked out Internet service for many on Grand Cayman Tuesday evening. The lightning hit a landing station at the U.S. end of the Maya-1 cable system between Cancun, Mexico and Hollywood, Florida, on Tuesday afternoon, affecting Internet access and some phone service in Cayman, according to local telecom companies and regulators.
On the 21st of August 2011, a thunderstorm forced the Pope to cut short his speech!
On the 21st of August 2011, a thunderstorm forced the pope to cut short his speech to an estimated 1 million young pilgrims gathered at a Madrid airfield to mark World Youth Day. As rain soaked the crowd and lightning lit up the night sky on Saturday, the 84-year-old pontiff skipped the bulk of the speech and delivered brief greetings in half a dozen languages.
In 1769 a single lightning bolt killed 3000 people in Brescia, Italy.
In 1769 a single lightning bolt killed 3000 people in Brescia, Italy, and caused a large part of the city to be destroyed! Over 200,000 pounds of explosives were stored in the Church of San Nazaro on Brescia when a single lightning bolt struck its tower. The resulting explosion and fire killed 3000 people and destroyed a large part of the city.
Almost half of drivers speed to avoid hail storms!
According to research from RACQ nearly half of Queensland, Australia drivers will speed to avoid hail damage to their cars. The motoring club and insurer's research revealed 47% of motorists admitted to speeding to avoid hail damage to their cars - up from 44% last year. The research also found female drivers were more likely to speed (54.2%) than males (52%) when a storm hits.
Upside-down lightning strikes exist and pose a great threat to wind turbines!
Upward lightning strikes initiate on the ground and head skyward. These discharges, which usually begin at the top of tall and slender structures, pose a real risk for wind turbines. An EPFL study analyzes the mechanisms underlying this poorly understood phenomenon.
A teenage girl survived a terrifying lightning strike, saved by her iPod wire!
A teenage girl survived a terrifying lightning strike after she was saved by the wire of her iPod. Schoolgirl Sophie Frost and her boyfriend Mason Billington, both 14, stopped to shelter under a tree when a storm struck as they were walking near their homes. They were struck by a lightning but survived! Doctors believe Sophie survived the 300,000-volt surge only because it travelled through the gadget’s wire, diverting it away from her vital organs.
Google lost data by lightning strikes!
On 2015, during an August thunderstorm, Google lost data by lightning strikes! Google says data has been wiped from discs at one of its data centres in Belgium - after the local power grid was struck by lightning four times.
...what a moonbow is?
Moonbows, also known as lunar rainbows, are the dimmer cousin of more common daylight rainbows, made possible from the refraction of raindrops by moonlight, rather than sunlight.
Moonbows are so rare because moonlight is not usually bright, and the alignment of conditions needed for them don't happen often.
According to Atmospheric Optics, a bright near-full moon must be less than 42 degrees above the horizon, illuminating rain on the opposite side of a dark sky.