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Science

When Lightning Strikes 285

Posted by michael
from the all-hail-tesla dept.
ctwxman writes "For most of the United States (sorry West Coast), this is the season for lightning. It is as powerful as it is spectacular to look at. It is destructive too - by itelf or through the hail, straight line winds and tornadoes that often accompany it. As someone who forecasts the weather, I'm often asked about lightning. As you might imagine, there's plenty to see about lightning on the Internet. The conditions necessary and a little bit of the physics behind lightning are explained by Jeff Haby, a meteorologist (one of my professors actually) at Mississippi State University. Once forecasters get a handle on what's going on, they put the word out through the Storm Prediction Center. Regular outlooks are issued by SPC for severe storms. Once those storms rear their ugly heads, they're followed with mesoscale discussions looking at the active areas. The Storm Prediction Center is also the place where Severe Thunderstorm and Tornado Watches are issued and storm related damage reports are compiled. Lots of hobbyists like to track lightning strikes on their own, and there's equipment available to do just that. Getting hit by lightning is never fun, though not always fatal. National Geographic chronicled an amazing story of a lightning strike, and rescue, on Grand Teton."
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When Lightning Strikes

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  • NLDN (Score:5, Informative)

    by David M. Andersen (711958) * <dma.dmatech@org> on Friday June 11, 2004 @10:01PM (#9404484) Homepage
    For a bit of fun, you can check out the National Lightning Detection Network [lightningstorm.com], which shows recent lightning strikes in the USA over the last few hours.
    • Re:NLDN (Score:5, Interesting)

      by chimpo13 (471212) <slashdot@nokilli.com> on Friday June 11, 2004 @10:22PM (#9404593) Homepage Journal
      For even more fun, don't forget about the Jesus actor in the Passion of Christ being struck by lightning during the filming. [bbc.co.uk] The assistant director was hit twice. Probably a pissed off God -- mad that it's supposed to be realistic, what with the Aramaic and all, but Mel Gibson used a white Jesus.

      And then there's Roy Sullivan. A quick google [about.com] turned this up:

      Roy Cleveland Sullivan was a Forest Ranger in Virginia who had an incredible attraction to lightning... or rather it had an attraction to him. Over his 36-year career as a ranger, Sullivan was struck by lightning seven times - and survived each jolt, but not unscathed. When struck for the first time in 1942, he suffered the loss of a nail on his big toe. Twenty-seven years passed before he was struck again, this time by a bolt that singed his eyebrows off. The next year, in 1970, another strike burned Sullivan's left shoulder. Now it looked as though lightning had it out for poor Roy, and people were starting to call him The Human Lightning Rod. He didn't disappoint them. Lightning zapped him again in 1972, setting his hair on fire and convincing him to keep a container of water in his car, just in case. The water came in handy in 1973 when, seemly just to taunt Sullivan, a low-hanging cloud shot a bolt of lightning at his head, blasting him out of his car, setting his hair on fire and knocking off a shoe. The sixth strike in 1976 injured his ankle, and the seventh strike in 1977, got him when he was fishing, and put him in the hospital for treatment of chest and stomach burns. Lightning may not have been able to kill Roy Sullivan, but perhaps the threat of it did. He took his own life in 1983. Two of his lightning-singed ranger hats are on display at Guinness World Exhibit Halls.
      • Reminds me of that John Candy movie (Canadian Bacon? I forget).

        "So, how many times were you struck by lightening?"
        "s-six... s-s-six... ss-six..."
        "Wow, six times, eh? That's impressive!"
        "... s-sixty-six t-times..."
    • I was momentarily stunned (Shocked? Har har) when I thought I saw "Visalia Lightning Explorer", being that I'm originally from there and all.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 11, 2004 @10:05PM (#9404509)
    Q: Why did the blonde keep stopping then smile during a
    lightning storm?

    A: She thought she was getting her picture taken.
  • Side effects (Score:3, Interesting)

    by NIK282000 (737852) on Friday June 11, 2004 @10:07PM (#9404515) Homepage Journal
    My physiscs teacher discribed an intresting side effect of a lighting storms.

    he was in his pool ans could hear thunder in the distance so he throught he should probably get out, but as the cloud got closer the surface of the pool started to "boil". The huge negative chage in the cloud induced an equal positive charge in the ground underneath it. As this positive charge was attracted to the cloud it made ions in the water making it boil. After pondering that for a minute he jumped ou tof the pool so as not to be killed.

    • "...made ions in the water making it boil. "

      Oh yeah, community collej must have been great fun.

      Did you do cold fusion experiments, too?

  • better read (Score:5, Informative)

    by Orodreth (679524) on Friday June 11, 2004 @10:08PM (#9404521)
    The first link is a little scant on details...if you're really interested in lightning I'd recommend this. [nasa.gov]
  • by goldmeer (65554) on Friday June 11, 2004 @10:09PM (#9404528)
    The headline is great!
    Not really on it's own merits, but I instantly imagined the remarks from when the "story" is posted again in 2 weeks: "When Lightning Strikes Twice"
  • by RLiegh (247921) on Friday June 11, 2004 @10:09PM (#9404529) Homepage Journal
    I know Im going to get modded down for this; but Ive lived in Wa, Tx, Ak and Az; and out of all of them, its (ironically) been in Az where Ive seen lightening the most intensely (longer duration, and more clearly visible) and also the most closely (within blocks of where I live).

    Absolutely breathtaking.
    • I know Im going to get modded down for this; but Ive lived in Wa, Tx, Ak and Az; and out of all of them, its (ironically) been in Az where Ive seen lightening the most intensely (longer duration, and more clearly visible) and also the most closely (within blocks of where I live).

      Absolutely breathtaking.


      I completely agree. We used to spend a lot of time along the Colorado River (Mead and Havasu). You wake up and start with a beautiful, blue clear sky. As the day goes on you can see the clouds forming and
    • Incidentally, University of Arizona is where E. Philip Krider [arizona.edu] works in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences [arizona.edu] - he basically spearheaded the development of lightning detection systems. [nrcan.gc.ca] Coincidence? Probably not.
    • by Big Bob the Finder (714285) on Friday June 11, 2004 @10:28PM (#9404621) Homepage Journal
      Lightning in New Mexico was absolutely spectacular. New Mexico Tech has the Langmuir Lightning Lab, at the top of South Baldy (10,783 foot peak). Charlie Moore and Bernard Vonnegut (brother of author Kurt, now deceased) used to study lightning discharge there.

      Until they tore it down in '98 or '99, New Mexico Tech used to have a lightning observatory right in the middle of campus, part of the legacy of E.J. Workman; it was actually an air traffic control tower, with a full 360-degree view. (Workman was an interesting character himself, having been sent down to Socorro from University of New Mexico to work on the "second most important" technological achievement of WWII, the proximity fuze, at what later became the explosives research and test facility at New Mexico Tech).

      But, anyway- New Mexico has a very high density of lightning, second only to parts of FL (which has its own lightning research center). From firsthand experience, I can state that the size and duration of the strokes can be extremely powerful; one night I was woken up by a particularly powerful one that set off a number of car alarms. There was no storm with no rain before or after- it was as if one of the explosives bunkers had detonated up on the Hill at EMRTC.

      Parts of eastern New Mexico get it even harder. There has to be something about the magnitude of the storms, and maybe the flatness of the land, that forms a particularly large discharge. A good New Mexican frog-strangler is something to behold.

    • Come to Jupiter.
      There are lightning discharages here that are larger than your entire planet.
      Discharges around what you call "the Great Red Spot" are particularly beautiful.

      Wait.
      I meant go to Jupiter, not come to Jupiter.
      I, of course, have never been there myself, any more than any of you humans have.

      Wait.
      I meant us humans, not you humans.
      Yeah, that's it.
      Us humans.
      Us humans have never been to Juptier.

      Damn, this vocal entry thing isn't working.
      Computer, don't hit the submit but
  • by scrod98 (609124) on Friday June 11, 2004 @10:11PM (#9404536)
    As someone who has lost his share of equipment to lightning hits over the years (telephones, one PC, even a CB radio) I love being able to unplug my wireless laptop and feel safe to keep surfing. God bless 802.11b.
  • by Faust7 (314817) on Friday June 11, 2004 @10:14PM (#9404548) Homepage
    For most of the United States (sorry West Coast), this is the season for lightning.

    Damn. And I had my cable hanging down from the Hill Valley Clock Tower all ready too.
  • lightning.. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sinner0423 (687266) <sinner0423@gmai l . com> on Friday June 11, 2004 @10:17PM (#9404563)


    I've never been directly struck by lightning, but I have been "zapped" i guess you can say, by some sort of mild electric shock when a big bolt hit right near my apartment complex.

    I ran upstairs to the 3rd floor, to shut a window because it had been raining.. I go to close the window, i'm standing on wet carpet (the whole room is practically soaked) and suddenly BLAM. Big lightning strike, and I got shocked. It almost felt like my whole body was doing a tongue test on those square 9v batteries. Probably the closest i've ever come to being struck.

    Has this happened to anyone else? I had previously believed that one could only get struck or zapped by lightning outside of a house.
    • Re:lightning.. (Score:4, Informative)

      by dotslashconfig (784719) on Friday June 11, 2004 @10:32PM (#9404637)
      What you probably experienced was the resulting radio waves that are emitted when the charge from a bolt of lightning enters the ground (though you probably only got a mild version of this).

      This is why people are discouraged from "seeking shelter" under large trees during a lightning storm. Not only is the taller object more likely to be struck by lightning, but also the radio waves emitted within a 10-15 ft radius can cause you to go into cardiac arrest. Dangerous stuffs if you're too close to the strike point.
      • Re:lightning.. (Score:5, Informative)

        by rco3 (198978) on Friday June 11, 2004 @11:54PM (#9404961) Homepage
        Err... no.

        There is a great big electric field associated with a nearby channel, and field gradients can result in some really interestingly large voltages to appear across things like the ground.

        However, to call these fields radio waves implies that they are oscillatory in nature, which is simply not accurate. I'm a lightning researcher, and in the course of my work I've studied lightning electric fields recorded during close lightning strikes. It's not my personal favorite area of interest, but I know enough to say that "radio waves" is a poor description.

        The reason that you don't stand near trees during an electrical storm is because 1) the flash is likely to initiate a side channel which passes from the tree-trunk (radio tower, light pole, bus stop, etc) through you, making you very unhappy; and 2) because the HUGE injection of current into the ground causes the ground itself to "rise" from a nominal 0 volts to several kilo- or even mega-volts, and that voltage falls off as the square of the distance... so that if your two legs are 10 feet and 12 feet respectively from the channel termination point, you might experience a voltage of several kV (or more) between them. This causes a current to flow up one leg and down the other, and makes you (and your goodies, don't ya know) very unhappy. This is worse if you happen to have four legs which CAN'T be placed together, like if you're a cow or horse. Zap!
        • Re:lightning.. (Score:2, Interesting)

          by 68K (234318)
          Another reason for not hiding under a tree when there's lightning going on is that the tree can bloody well explode. I've seen it happen. I imagine a chunk of rapidly moving tree can do a lot of damage to a relatively soft and squidgy human.
        • E field (Score:3, Interesting)

          by wowbagger (69688)
          Yes, the E field across the ground is bad - I knew a caver who was deep inside a cave, and was shocked by the cave wall when a strike hit the ground above.

          That's also why you should NOT lie down on the ground to avoid a strike - instead, you should "become a basketball with feet" - curl up into a ball and balance on the balls of your feet, with your feet as close together as possible (if your balance isn't good enough, then put your feet flat). That way, if a strike hits close to your, the potential across
      • Further to the other explanation below, standing near trees may also be hazardous in that they tend to explode and throw bits of themselves outwards. Something to do with the sap being heated up and expanding? I forget..
        • by Detritus (11846)
          I just happened to be looking at a tree when it was struck by lightning. I saw a side of the tree trunk glow red for a fraction of a second when the lightning hit the top of the tree. That sort of energy can cause the water/sap to flash to steam, blowing off the outside of the tree.
    • Re:lightning.. (Score:2, Interesting)

      by kc8jhs (746030)
      Although I don't have a link or reference to the article (other than I believe I read it in Reader's Digest), there have been several cases of individuals struck by lightning indoors. One instance that stands out in my mind, was a story of a woman, in a basement who was struck by lightning while washing clothes, and reaching towards a glass block window, where her detergent was sitting.

      "Can I get struck by lightning when I'm indoors?" [howstuffworks.com]

      NWS Lightning Safety: Indoors [noaa.gov]

      -Mikey P
    • Re:lightning.. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Frogbert (589961) <frogbertNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Saturday June 12, 2004 @12:46AM (#9405115)
      I have been hit by lightning and it is a surreal experiance, essentialy it goes like this:

      A split second before your hit you know something is up, your hair starts to stand on end and you get goosebumps.

      Then it hits. You feel torn towards the lightning stream almost as if it attracts you to it. All your bodies muscles and tendons constrict, your fingers tighten so hard your nails cut into the palms of your hands. Its like licking one hell of a 12volt battery.

      Then you collapse and pass out for a bit. When you wake up your "exit point" in this case my foot is burning beyond belief, due to the fact that it is quite seriously burnt. Your mouth tastes of copper and you can smell electricity everywhere.

      Afterwards your hair stands on end for HOURS and doesn't go down.

      At least that is my experiance.
  • As someone who forecasts the weather

    Sorry, you've lost all credibility right there.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      You need to distinguish between the lusers who do weather on TV and the real weather forcasters who (in the US, anyway) work at the National Weather Service (part of the NOAA). These folks really do know what they are doing, and if you take some time to look at the "forcast discussions" that accompany some of the real NWS forcast products, you'd gain a an appreciation for how hard weather forcasting is for those who do it for real.

      Have a look at this [noaa.gov], for example.

  • NMT LMS (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 11, 2004 @10:23PM (#9404597)
    Don't forget the New Mexico Tech Lightning Mapping System. Here's the link http://ibis.nmt.edu/nmt_lms/

    It has some pretty neat images of their lightning mappings. You can see the lightning in 3D, and the precursors to lightning, etc.

    Not much info, but there's been some really neat research going on out there. Maybe someone else knows more.
  • by AcidPhish (785961) on Friday June 11, 2004 @10:23PM (#9404599) Homepage

    I think this will be the season for antennae and wireless shops around the US. With the growing WAN's around the place, and the endless similarity between a lightning rod and those antennae... Ouch!

    Fun to watch but expensive to reproduce...

    • Yeah, i'll vouch for the concern about wLAN and their gear being protected. I did installs for a wireless operation down here in south Texas where the storms REALLY get intense. SO what we do is ground the mast itself and isolate the computer and electronics by using isolation tranformers and UPCs to isolate the systems from strikes so that if a strike does occurr, it will damage the protection gear and not the acutal systems.

      YDI had built a all-in-one antenna that had the Ethernet gear and transcever all
  • I posted some links and info at http://lightning.thunder.net/ [thunder.net] after getting pestered by enough kids trying to do research for school work who kept writing to the webmaster address for this domain.
  • Unpredictable (Score:4, Interesting)

    by digital_milo (212475) on Friday June 11, 2004 @10:31PM (#9404636)
    My wife's best friend was killed by lightning in Houston in 2001. A storm had passed though about a half hour before and it appeard to be clearing. She went into the front yard to do some weeding in a flower bed beside the driveway. Her house was in the middle of a bunch of very large pines. They probably had 2 dozen 75-100' pine trees throughout the yard and the entire lot was under the canopy. Not to mention that there were 2 aluminum light poles within 25 yards of where she was struck. Examining the damage afterwards, a tree was struck. The lightning travelled along the tree for about 15 feet and then must have travelled through the air, through her body and into the rebar in the driveway (or reverse that since lightning supposedly travels up). A neighbor began cpr within 2 minutes and they had her to a hospital within 15-20 minutes. They got her heart working again eventually, but never any brain activity. I kinda like to think that she died immediatly. From what I was told, there wasn't any visible damage to her body except for some blood from her nose and mouth (that was third hand since the neighbor wouldn't talk about it).
    • Re:Unpredictable (Score:3, Interesting)

      by NanoGator (522640)
      "My wife's best friend was killed by lightning in Houston in 2001."

      Ugh. You know how they talk about how games desensitize people? I've been playing Unreal Tournament 04 way too much over the last week. One of the weapons that I've grown to love is the Lightning gun. It fires a bolt of lightning and *zaap*. I love sniping with it.

      Despite really enjoying zapping people with this game, reading that somebody you know (or your wife knows...) died with it really made my heart sink.

      I hope I'm not being
  • by buckhead_buddy (186384) on Friday June 11, 2004 @10:46PM (#9404694)
    I live next to a golf course with a lightning detector to warn golfers of electrical activity in the vicinity. I'm not trying to paint all such products with the same brush, but the detector only seems to trigger the warning sirens just after a thunderclap so I've been somewhat skeptical of the utility of these devices.

    Still the noise from the detector is better than golf balls hitting my roof so anything that gets people off the course and give me peace is welcome.
  • Weather (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Axel2001 (179987)
    I am a weather spotter for the national weather service and I have seen some interesting storms here in VA... We once had a storm so intense that the sky was dark enough around 2:00pm that you could see stars in the breaks of the clouds and the moon was "shining." That was freaky - apparently, that storm spawned a "small" tornado that threw individual blades of grass through a telephone pole. In 1985, the southern part of the state, where I am originally from, experienced the "Flood of 85." The Roanoke ri
    • Re:Weather (Score:2, Interesting)

      by SkiifGeek (702936)

      I was going to mod this, but I thought I should reply instead. I call BS on the claim you could see the stars through the cloud breaks. I don't know what you were looking at, but it wouldn't have been the stars unless the storm clouds were dense enough and thick enough to extend all the way through the atmosphere to mitigate the effect of the atmosphere in distributing light. This is the same reason why you can't see stars when looking up through a long chimney / mine shaft / whatever during the day.

  • by v1 (525388) on Friday June 11, 2004 @10:49PM (#9404710) Homepage Journal
    A guy I know put an antenna up in a pine tree, about 70 feet, without a ground wire. Needless to say it got nailed, about 2am while he slept. Detonated the antenna, peeling it into 2ft long, thin strips of fiberglass. Boiled his coax, all the way into his house. Electrofried his radio, and set its power cord on fire. (under his bed, where he was sleeping, setting the carpet on fire) Blew the outlet off the wall. Got into the breaker box and destroyed several breakers, two microwaves, and three color TVs. Finally found ground via the phone entrance box on the outside of the house, which was blown off the house. This was the SECOND time he had been hit, the previous time was the same exact scenario, just not as damaging.

    A guy down the block got his ham radio antenna hit, blowing the base of the antenna to pieces. (severing the ground connection in the process, unfortunately) The lightning then took out his coax like det cord, which was laid down under one layer of shingles. This shot the shingles that were laid over the coax right off the house. It then took out his radio, followed the power cord into the electrical system in his house, took out all the appliances in his kitchen, and then went underground to his garage and took out three marine radios that were on charge at the time.

    A friend and former co-worker had an employee of his arrive late to work. When asked of the excuse, he said he got his truck struck by lightning on the way in. And boy did he. They never found any of the whip antenna. The base of it, solid brass, was melted like ice cream. Blew out the back sliding windows where the coax came into the cab. Blew the radio to pieces. Finally found ground via front left quarterpanel, which was permanently bowed inward from the sudden heating.

    I worked on someone's computer recently, they had pictures on their desktop of a relative's car that was struck while going down the highway. It hit the rear mounted stereo antenna, arced into the body of the car, (creating a 1/2" hole in the metal near the antenna mount) and found ground via ALL FOUR TIRES, arcing across the wheel wells and apparently through the steel belts, flattening all four tires in the process. It also blew out the rear window from the concussion.

    My car was struck by lightning while on the road too. Took out the headlights and the windshield wipers, which then started working normally a few hours later. (probably tripped the breakers that those items usually are on instead of fuses)

    I have a large ham radio antenna at my house as well, which has been struck at least three times so far, you can count the char marks on it. Thanks goes to a 1/4" solid aluminum ground wire and a 10ft copper water pipe for a ground rod, the lightning has never even scratched my radio, which remains plugged in and cabled up 24/7.

    Lastly, if you're ever on a beach and run into a patch of what appears like a cross between pavement and sand, that's where lightning has struck the beach and melted the sand into glass. Really weird effect...
    • Lightening happens around here (west coast) and the coax goes out the window the radios get disconnected from the AC. 10 foot ground rods last about 3 months in this soil. My tower has 4 #10 copper leads anout 10 inches long going to "ground." I am knocking on wood I haven't lost anything to EMF but hams just 2 blocks away have lost rigs and computers to Lightening EMF and leaving stuff connected. Oh and I don't leave the tower cranked up when I am not home or during storms. I hope the path of least ress
    • I've seen household wiring from a house that has been hit by lightning. Over here in the UK, we use flattish oval cable with a thick grey PVC jacket, which covers two thick copper wires with red and black insulation for phase and neutral, and a thinner bare copper wire for earth.

      Lightning had struck the outside light at the corner of this house, and had blown the insulation off the wire. It had smashed like toffee, almost like it had been frozen in liquid nitrogen and hit with a hammer.

      An office I used

  • My wife likes to go outside on the porch and watch lightening storms. I live in Texas - so the storms can get pretty intense.

    I prefer to stay inside, and not present a path to ground (or more accurately a path from ground) for the random bolts.

  • by thedogcow (694111) on Friday June 11, 2004 @10:52PM (#9404727)
    As someone who is finishing his BS in Meteorology from a reputable university that teaches meteorology (Univ of Oklahoma), I am really sick and tired of people not giving credit to meteorologists. First, I want to set some facts out:

    1) People on TV usually do not have a BS in meteorology. They are usually journalists, hence, they have not taken the required math and physics that one needs in order to understand that air behaves like a fluid in a nonlinear fashion. Please take the time to distinguish between people that have science degrees and people who do not.

    2) Weather Prediction. For anyone that complains about how meteorologists cannot predict the weather, I would like to see you apply your skills of solving Partial Differential Equations that are extremely complicated in a Lagrangian reference frame. Numerical weather models have to approximate solutions to the complicated PDEs and even have to reduce important terms (Scale Analysis) that, of course, play a significant role in the long term.

    3) The Storm Prediction Center is located in Norman, OK. As an undergraduate... I love to learn about the vertical tilting and stretching of a baroclinically induced horizontal vorticity zone... i.e.. Tornadogenesis. SPC saves lives and employees people that have masters in meteorology. They are highly qualified and are not the usual crapfest that you see on The Weather Channel or local news stations.

    Moof!
    • People on TV usually do not have a BS in meteorology.

      i beg to differ. tv weather people have substantial BS when it comes to weather.

    • If you are a BS right now then you may not really remember, but there was a time when meteorology was MUCH different than it is right now. I remember watching the weather when I was a kid and it seems to met that it was far, far less accurate than it is now. Detection technology and understand of what to do with the measurements that come from that technology have grown quite a bit. If you pay attention you'll notice that older people make fun of meteorologists quite a bit more than young people. Of cou
    • 1) People on TV usually do not have a BS in meteorology. They are usually journalists, hence, they have not taken the required math and physics that one needs in order to understand that air behaves like a fluid in a nonlinear fashion. Please take the time to distinguish between people that have science degrees and people who do not.

      You're right, my local forecaster [nimm.com] doesn't list a BS in Meteorology. Though he does have a Masters of Science in it. Still manages to get the weather wrong a lot of the time. A
  • just a few weeks ago (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jjeffries (17675) on Friday June 11, 2004 @11:01PM (#9404771)
    I was at work when a huge thunderstorm rolled in. The wind kicked up and the building my office is in started creaking, the wind whistling over it. The rain started next, coming down almost horizontally.

    There was a flash very big boom, during which a piece of electrical equipment up the street turned into sparks. A moment later, the sky lit up again, this time not white, but blue.

    My office is on the forth floor in a not very big town, so I have pretty good view of a lot of it, and it was lit up as bright as the brightest of sunny days. But blue.

    I believe I saw a flashover [wvlightning.com], which occurs when lightning hits something electrical, and the electricty within, which had previously been happy doing its thing, jumps out and follows the lightning bolt's path. This can continue for several seconds after the lightning has stopped.

    My girlfriend was there to see this too--in fact, she dropped to her knees and said "that's the scariest thing I've ever seen." And I agree. Lightning is fascinating stuff, and terrifying.

  • Getting hit by lightning is never fun ... what if you're flying a kite when it happens?

    Seriously, though... slow news day? This is the type of stuff they run in the papers when noone's found an interesting way to bleed in the past week, or a bad reason to sue some wealthy corporation.

  • by michaeldot (751590) on Friday June 11, 2004 @11:12PM (#9404809)

    I'm in Sydney, Australia and I just saw a butterfly flapping its wings. Someone on the other side of the world is about to get a tornado on their doorstep.

  • Anything that costs more than $20 tends to get crossed out on the list of cool toys. I've been thinking of building some other weather/geo sensors (even a seismograph) and logging stuff just for the heck of it.

    Speaking of which, is there any way to detect cosmic rays without a university dept backing me up? The things are so rare, that I'd never know it wasn't working....
  • If you ever get a chance to travel around in the southwest, try to stay at the Lightning Field in New Mexico. It is a rustic stay at the cabins there but it is worth staying there overnight. Even without the lightning strikeing the sculpture it is an awesome site. The field is most active during the summer months past July. http://www.lightningfield.org/ Support the arts!
    • Support the arts!

      It does look like a clever installation, and certainly would be fun to visit during a storm. As far as supporting the arts goes, I was with you until I came across this:

      The Lightning Field is protected by copyright. Photography of the sculpture and the cabin is not permitted. Commissioned, copyrighted slides are available for $30.00 per set of 8, plus $2.00 shipping and handling.

      So I've got to pay $135 to spend the night during storm season (and they not-so-subtly request that I pay more

  • Lightning kills cows (Score:2, Interesting)

    by scaryfish (664305)
    Apparently if lightning strikes near a cow (or any other large quadruped) they can die, simply because the lightning creates enough of a voltage potential in the ground that the difference between their front and hind legs is enough to be lethal.

    Humans, on the other hand, don't have as much of a problem, because their feet are so close together.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      I'm not sure if this story lends credibility to your assertion, but I know a man who raises cattle and will tell you about the effects of lightning on cattle. A good while ago a group of his cattle were killed when lightning struck the ground near them. Cattle can somewhat sense changes in the weather and act accordingly, so when they felt the storm coming they crowded together in a spot in the pasture. However, this spot happened to located over an iron-ore deposit which the lightning struck and thus killi
  • 1rst hand experience (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jvl001 (229079) on Friday June 11, 2004 @11:38PM (#9404909) Homepage
    My own experience with lightning, for the lack of a better word, was simply awesome and I'm glad it wasn't a closer hit. A thunderstorm developed over the neighbouring fields of my parent's farm and slowly made it's way over our fields. It was an extremely hot and humid day, the sudden down pour settled the dust quickly while the temperature dropped several degrees in a few seconds. I watched a lightning bolt strike the ground in the middle of a flat empty field leaving the ground smoking even though it was raining cats & dogs.

    I happened to be standing at the patio door: bare foot on a forced-air furnace register (vent) which was effectively well-grounded. The next lightning bolt struck a nearby tree or the house. It didn't really matter where it struck. I could literally feel the charge race through my body and make my hair stand on end. The flash and boom were simultaneous.

    A few minutes later we were sitting at the kitchen table. Another close-by strike caused a 6-inch long blue arc that leapt from the electric stove's fuse panel through a stainless pot and grounded out through the stove's element. It also blew out all the lights on that side of the house.

    That was by far the scariest storm I have ever experienced.
  • by n0mad6 (668307) on Friday June 11, 2004 @11:41PM (#9404923)
    I'm in the control room of one of the detectors at Fermilab [fnal.gov] where there's a fairly intense storm going on. About 20 minutes ago, a particularly large lightning strike caused the protons and the antiprotons circling the accelerator to alter their orbits enough that we had to shut down parts of the detector while we waited for the beam to settle.

    by pure coincidence I opened my browser to /. while waiting for the voltages to come back up and I see this story up at the top.

  • I was hit by lightning about 20 years ago in Australia. I was out playing golf when hit in the left arm. Horrendous burns and lots of scars left to this day. No fun at all.

  • The heading states "sorry west coast", but Alaska is the farthest west state in the U.S. (also the farthest north, and east), and it most certainly is lightning season here. You can view the ground strikes on a map online [noaa.gov].

    In my area, (Alaska Range) as well as the Interior and the Brooks Range of Arctic Alaska all have very severe storms; I have witnessed them, and the resulting forest fires, firsthand. I have recorded some fierce storms, with lightning, marble-size hail, strong winds, and once I swear was

  • I drove semi trucks for several years. In a thunderstorm near Decatur Illinois I saw a bright flash and heard a loud pop the realized my engine was dead. I was able to coast to an off-ramp and park. When I inspected my truck I realized I had no electrical power at all. Finally I took look at my cb antenna which was made of fiberglass and it was melted. Lightning had struck the cb antenna and fried $12,000 dollars worth of electrical components in the semi. The brain box and every sensor on the engine had t
  • Ok America is not the only place in the world that gets lightning, actually NSW Australia gets some of the best action Check out this link http://www.countryenergy.com.au/stormtrk.htm And click the movie button. Thats what i call a pefect lightning storm
  • I'm also a weather spotter in Chicagoland... it's raining quite a bit right now. I found it kinda funny that two of those links in the story I'd bookmarked...

    Anywho... no interesting stories here, but there's a neat lightning map here [lightningstorm.com]. It shows all of the lightning strikes in the nation for the last three hours. Also, if anyone has a "weatherspeak" dictionary, that'd be great. I do a decent job of interpreting NWS forecasts, but crazy stuff like:

    A PLETHORA OF SFC AND UPPER LEVEL FEATURES BEGINNING TO SP

    • A PLETHORA OF SFC AND UPPER LEVEL FEATURES BEGINNING TO SPAWN

      DEEP MOIST CONVECTION IN NRN IA, WILL EVOLVE INTO A MCS LATER
      TONIGHT AND LIKELY MOVE INTO THE NRN PORTIONS OF THE CWA.
      CONCURRENTLY... wtf is MCS? CWA?

      Translation (as I can't find this text in Google, I'm assuming IA is Iowa, and that this was a recent advance bulletin regarding weather moving towards Illinois):

      A lot of surface and upper level features beginning to spawn deep moist heat transfer in northern Iowa will evolve into a group of thunde

  • by cap-n k (787541) on Saturday June 12, 2004 @01:19AM (#9405220)
    About two weeks ago, during an after-school rehearsal of Macbeth, we heard a sharp clap of thunder as the three witches were reciting "Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and caldron bubble....". We were startled at first yet were quickly amused at its timing. One of the actors emerged from the dressing room quite pale and said he saw a flash of light streak along one of the walls.

    After the rehearsal, I returned to the computer lab, sat down at my PC, and noticed that it was powered down... and it wouldn't power up. I wandered into our LAN/Server/Broom/Tool/Ex-Bathroom closet and discovered that 2 servers, 4 PCs, our SDSL router, our 24-port Switch, and the Ethernet port on the motherboard of 10 new PCs were all dead. The PCI NIC in my PC had a crater in it. Our PBX was toast and the 25 and 50-pair phone cables between buildings were severely damaged as well..

    If you'd like to see a short Flash-enabled gallery of the destruction, go here [austinwaldorf.org] As usual, click on a thumbnail to see a larger image.

    A company that is no longer in business installed our punch-down blocks, and they grounded the blocks to a faucet attached to a copper pipe. The person who did the plumbing on the building said that the copper pipe does not travel far before it continues its run as a PVC pipe. The cable and punch-down block installer did not use a true power ground with a 6-ft spike in the ground. We did have lightning arresters on the blocks, but I found the one connected to our SDSL line charred on the floor. It got blown off the wall (one million volts, 200,000 Amps coming through!) The surge traveled over our data network, not through the AC power supplies.

    I've also been looking at web sites that indicate that there's no conclusive proof that lighting rods are effective deterrents even though they're recommended in many building codes.

    Having fun in Austin,
    A Chief Technical Agonizer

    p.s. We discovered today that the light board in our auditorium also got nailed. It's like "Close Encounters" in there without the tones, but then again, we haven't fully tested the sound board yet. Who knows what we'll find tomorrow !!!

    • I'm sorry to hear about the loss.

      I don't have the photo gallery to prove it, but just about 2 weeks ago, I lost a 30GB HD to lightning. It was the first drive I've lost in, oh, 10 years of serious computing (to any problem), and the first serious loss I've ever suffered to lightning.

      Worse, I lost an outlet on the APC surge protector into which my month-old computer is plugged. After the storm had passed (we suffered a brief brownout) I went to power the computers back on, only to find that one wouldn't fi
  • Sprites (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Trailwalker (648636) on Saturday June 12, 2004 @06:31AM (#9405928)
    The part of lightening study that fasinates me is the discovery of sprites,a part of a lightening strike that moves spaceward.

    Here is a pic [nasa.gov] of a sprite.

    This is linked to in a longish article [nasa.gov]. See under Recent Developments.
  • by snowbike (35353) on Saturday June 12, 2004 @01:14PM (#9407640)
    I was chasing storms in a plane as part of a research project to study sprites, jets, and other middle-atmosphere lightning [alaska.edu]. Our plane got into the upper region of a small storm, and we were hit by lightning. We had video cameras going and they didn't even hiccup. Check out a frame grab [alaska.edu] (the next frame was completely saturated). That pod in the image is the end of our wing (I think this was the Westwind II, but it may have been the Jet Commander).

    Another amazing video is of a plane getting hit by lightning at a Japanese airport--check it here [noaa.gov].

    Bottom line: planes can be just like a big hydrometeor from lightning's perspective.

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