FAST FACTS: Thunder and lightning

According to the experts at the National Severe Storms Survey lightning is a gigantic electrostatic discharge (the same kind of electricity that can shock you when you touch a doorknob) between the cloud and the ground, other clouds, or within a cloud. Thunder, on the other hand is the sound caused by rapidly expanding gases along a channel of lightning discharge. Energy from lightning heats the air to around 18,000 degrees Fahrenheit. This causes a rapid expansion of the air, creating a sound wave heard as thunder

Thunderstorms are commonplace for lightning but did you know that lightning can form without any sort of precipitation at all? Well it can, and is called “dry lightning” and is one of the leading causes of wildfires.

If you are caught outside during a storm, follow these Red Cross safety tips:

  • Try to reach a safe building.
  • Avoid high ground; water; tall, isolated trees; and metal objects such as fences or bleachers.
  • Picnic shelters, dugouts and sheds are NOT safe.
  • If you are boating or swimming, get to land and find shelter immediately!
  • Make sure the place you pick is not subject to flooding.
  • If you hear thunder, lightning can hit you. It can hit from as far as 10 miles away in open areas.

If someone has been struck call 9-1-1 immediately and begin CPR (don’t worry they won’t still carry a charge and cannot hurt you if you touch them).

A common occurrence with thunderstorms are power outages.  Power outages may be a nuisance but if handled poorly can lead to illness from spoiled food.  The Red Cross suggests to throw away any food that has been exposed to temperatures 40° F (4° C) for 2 hours or more or that has an unusual odor, color or texture. When in doubt, throw it out!


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