Lightning Phenomenon


Lightning is a natural phenomenon that occurs more often than we think it does.

That streaking flash, followed by a loud rumbling noise, that makes your knees
buckle is very dangerous because of its unpredictable striking force. Being
struck by lightning can be deadly, so the more precautions you take ahead of
time, the safer you are. Lightning not only affects us, it also has a great
impact on our man-made structures and of course, our natural surroundings.

According to Professor Martin Uman, one of the world’s leading lightning
experts: Lightning is an effect of electrification within a thunderstorm. As the
thunderstorm develops, interactions of charged particles produce an intense
electrical field within the cloud. A large positive charge is usually
concentrated in the frozen upper layers of the cloud and a large negative charge
with a smaller positive are is found in the lower portions. (4) This produces
what you see, a lightning flash, which may be "two or 300 feet long" (25).

The flash itself may be only as wide as a pencil, but because it is extremely
hot, hotter than the sun, its glow appears to be very wide to the human eye.

When lightning pushes the air from its path, it expands it quickly causing a 2
loud explosion, which we call thunder (25). William R. Newcott, part of the

National Geographic Editorial Staff, describes lightning as a "river of
electricity rushing through a canyon of air. Moving [SIC] fast as 100,000 miles
a second, lightning sears wild and unstoppable through twisted channel as long
as ten miles," (83) he explained. Lightning, being a natural occurrence, is
very unpredictable which makes it even more dangerous. Martin Uman, director of
the University of Florida’s Lightning Research Laboratory is quoted in Omni
saying, "A man was talking on a telephone near Gainesville, Florida, when
lightning hit the wires. He died instantly, electrocuted. Three or four people
die that way every year" (Wolkomir 1). It is hard to believe that someone
could just die while using the phone. You never know what will happen next when
it comes to lightning. In fact, even in recent weeks, the state of New Jersey
was hit by lightning causing various dangers. On June 6, 1996, a Sewaren oil
storage tank in Woodbridge, New Jersey, was hit by lightning causing a ferocious
explosion. This fire blazed for an unbelievable 28 hours. According to a staff
report in the Asbury Park Press, two employees attempting to turn off the power
to the area "suffered electrical burns, and were apparently the only
casualties" (A1). Fortunately, the 3 other tanks did not explode, or a few
more casualties might have resulted. Many people in the area felt and heard the
force of the explosion. Staff writers add, that "nearby relaxing in his boat
off Cliff Road, Rick Bothwell reported feeling the explosion, even on the water.

I heard a bang and a whoosh. It felt like an explosion out of a tube, he said"
(A1). Inland, nearby neighbors also felt the impact of the explosion. "The
ground just rumbled from the front of house to the back, said Richard Swallick,
who lives on West Avenue within a few hundred yards of the tank field" (A1).

Experts are very unsure as to what caused this almost disastrous explosion. Also
in this article, "Elaine Makatura, a spokeswoman for the state department of

Environmental Protection, said it was too early to speculate on what the
environmental impact of the blaze will be" (Staff Report A5). In otherwords,
they don’t know if any harmful chemicals were released during the blaze.

Contaminants in the air could cause a serious problem for neighbors of the gas
store area. After something like this happens, the question that comes to mind,
is can lightning strike twice? Well, according to Bernhard Warner, a staff
writer for the Asbury Park Press, there was a smaller explosion in Linden, New

Jersey, at the Tosco Refining Co. shortly before the one in Woodbridge exploded
(A5). A 4 manager at the refinery would not say whether lightning caused the
fire, because it is still under investigation. It seems the more things, we
learn about nature, the more questions arise. Bob Friant, a spokesman for the

State Department of Community Affairs, is quoted in the Home News and Tribune,
by Sean P. Carr, saying "we have never been able to conquer Mother Nature, and
we never will be" (B1). He has a real optimistic point of view, huh. Although,
after Carr points out that their are "thirty-five fuel storage tank
facilities, some of the dozens of tanks each store millions of gallons, dot the

Shore of Central and Northern New Jersey waterways," (B1) the chance of this
happening again seems likely. Furthermore, Martin Uman continues saying, "At
any moment, planet wide, about 2,000 thunderstorms are in progress. Each storm
generates a flash every 20 seconds" (4). That is unbelievable. Now I can
understand how there are so many deaths and injuries from people being struck by
lightning. The more thunderstorms, the more chances lightning will strike. If
you give lightning enough chances, it is bound to hit something. In the time it
takes you to read this sentence, lightning has flashed more than 500 times (4),

Uman notes. Facts like that are really amazing to me. How could lightning have
just flashed 500 times? This is because most of the lightning flashes we see are
cloud-to-ground strokes, but they "compromise only 5 about 20 percent of
lightning" (4). Much more frequent are flashes within clouds. Although
lightning kills many Americans every year, luckily some victims of lightning
hits have lived to tell about the experience. More than a year after lightning
nearly killed him during football practice, Tony Trice still does not want to
talk about it (Newcott 90). According to eyewitnesses in Burtonsville, Maryland:

"They saw a bolt tear a hole in the high schooler’s helmet, burn his jersey,
and blow his shoes off. Toy’s breathing stopped, but he was resuscitated on
the spot" (90). It is unbelievable that this teenager survived after being hit
by one of nature’s unpredictable and deadliest forces. How is it possible
someone could survive after being struck by lightning? Researchers at the

University of Queenland in Australia have traced the path followed by lightning
when it enters a living creature (Dayton 1) and according these researchers:
simulated lightning strikes on anaesthetized sheep showed that lightning first
enters the body orifices and then flow along the blood vessels and cerebrospinal
fluid (CSF) pathways. Since the CSF pathway narrows near the brainstem, this
part is hit hardest, resulting in cardiac and respiratory arrest. Since the
heart can restart itself because of autonomous control, fatality usually results
from respiratory failure. (1) This shows the importance of mouth-to-mouth
resuscitation for lightning victims. 6 I almost witnessed someone being struck
by lightning, but luckily they were not. It was during a soccer tournament that

I was playing in, about nine years ago. All of a sudden, the sun was hidden
behind the clouds and the sky turned a dark purplish color, and then it
downpoured. The sky rumbled with fierce thunder and you could see a couple of
lightning flashes. The tournament was at a high school, so everyone ran to the
school for safety. My father was with me, and as we headed towards the school,
we saw a bright flash of lightning strike a tree about a mile from us and split
it in half, starting a little fire. There were two kids from my team that were
around 50 feet away from the tree and they stood there frozen in fear. My dad
told me to keep going. Then, he went back and had to literally carry them to
safety because they were so scared. Fortunately, no one was any closer to that
tree or they would have been seriously injured or killed that day. Golfers are
prime targets for lightning, because they tend to either stand in open grassy
areas or huddle under trees while playing their game. Also, they use umbrellas
which attract lightning to them because of the metal point on top. In addition,
they hold metal golf clubs which increase their chances of being struck by
lightning. "A scored pattern on the fifth green at Phalem Park Golf course in

St. Paul Minnesota, defied ground zero when four golfers were injured, one
fatally, by 7 a June 1991 strike" (Newcott 89). I guess that kind of proves
that golf can be a dangerous sport, especially during a thunderstorm. In the
film, Lightning, directed by Linda Gorman, a golf legend, Lee Trevino describes
his experience of being hit by lightning, while playing in a tournament in 1975.

Trevino says: The sensation that I got was, I knew that something was wrong. It
did not just go pow, and it was over. I felt it, and I started shaking. The next
thing I knew, I started to hear a ringing sound in my ear, like a ball-peen
hammer. Then all of a sudden, the next thing I know is look at my feet and now
they are in the air. Now I’m off the ground... its got me all stretched out.

At the time, I guess it stops your heartbeat and I’m gasping for air. The next
thing I knew, is I woke up, and I was all doubled up. My left arm was under my
body... (Lightning) In listening and watching Trevino speak, I could see his
confusion and uncertainty of what was happening to him.. I am sure to this day,
when he is golfing on the green during a thunderstorm, he becomes reminiscent of
his previous experience with lightning. 8 Tall man-made structures have been
known to attract lightning. According to The New Book of Popular Science,
engineers in 1935 set up a device inside the Empire State Building in New York

City, to find out how the building handles being struck by lightning in the
experience. In the film Lightning, one source noted that this famous building is"struck more than twenty times each year" (Lightning). The special rod at
the top of the building was connected to this device by steel. This would allow
a small amount of the current to safely deflect from the rod to their machines.

Also photographs were taken from a small building to provide proof of this
experiment. They concluded from their studies that it is possible for lightning
to strike twice in the same place (142-143). "The empire state tower has been
struck by lightning as many as 42 times in one year. It was hit 12 times in a
single storm, and on one memorable occasion, 9 times in 20 minutes," (142-143)
which proves their studies to be accurate. Yet, after all those strikes, there
was no damage to the building. Nature itself is also affected by lightning.

Lightning is a cause of forest fires, which of course, may be devastatingly
destructive. According to The New Book of Popular Science: It also causes a
great deal of damage as a result of heating and expansion. When it passes
through wood, for example, the 9 enormous current heats the wood and causes it
to expand many many times. As a result, the wood is converted into vapor, and
this adds to the general effect of expansion. (143) It is interesting that

Mother Nature can create lightning, but she can also destroy a part of herself
in the process. All of us must respect lightning. It is very dangerous and it
kills! We do not have to be afraid of it, though. We can protect ourselves from
lightning by observing some basic lightning safety rules. According to my
research, I have learned that one should keep away from conductors such as metal
and water, as well as tall trees. When inside a home avoid using the telephone
except for emergency. You will not see me talking with my friend during a
lightning storm, not after hearing about the man getting electrocuted while
talking on the phone. If outside, with no time to reach a safe building or an
automobile, follow these rules given by Martin Uman: Do not stand underneath a
natural lightning rod such as a tall isolated tree in an open area. Stay away
from wire fences, clotheslines, metal pipes, rails, and other metallic paths
which could carry lightning to you from some distance away. If you are
hopelessly isolated in a level field or prairie and you feel your hair stand on
end, indicating lightning is about to strike, drop to your knees and bend
forward, putting your hands 10 on your knees. Do not lie on the ground!!! (95)

Lightning does not choose its victims or target. It just happens. For the many
fatalities, those people were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is
alright to be curious about lightning, but do not be stupid. Take the proper
precautions or you may just be another statistic. Remember you cannot predict
when or where lightning will strike, but you can be aware of the possibility. It
might be well, also to recall this passage from "Playing with Lightning",
written by a lightning stalker, Karl B. McEachron, quoted in The New Book of

Popular Science: "If you heard the thunder, the lightning did not strike you.

If you saw the lightning, it missed you; and if it did strike you, you would
have known it" (144). So, in otherwords, you can not predict when or where
lightning will strike, but you will definitely know it, when it strikes you.

Bibliography

Carr, Sean P. "Lightning can strike twice at vulnerable gas storage
areas." The Home News & Tribune 12 June 1996, sec. B: 1. Dayton, Leigh.

"Secrets of a bolt from the blue: How a lightning bolt enters the body." New

Scientist 18 Dec. 1993: 16. Lightning. Dir. Linda Gorman. Prod. Nova. Boston

Science Unit, 1995. "Lightning." The New Book of Popular Science. Vol. 12.

1994. Newcott, William R. "Lightning: Nature’s High-Voltage Spectacle."

National Geographic July 1993: 81-103. Staff Report. "Fire rages after
lightning strikes Sewaren oil storage tanks." Asbury Park Press 16 June 1996,
sec. A: 1,5. Uman, Martin A. All About Lightning. New York: Dover Publications

Inc, 1986. Warner, Bernhard. "A second fire strikes oil refinery in Linden."

Asbury Park Press 12 June 1996, sec A: 5 Wolkomir, Richard. "Electric Sky."

Omni March 1994: 50-60.