There are not many conversations that do not in some way inevitably turn to the discussion of weather. We kind of take it for granted – especially when it is not really having a major effect on our lives. Sure, we might moan if it snows heavily or the rain is stopping us hanging out our wet clothes, but the weather can actually change entire lives and civilizations. Many ancient civilizations for example survived by being able to read weather patterns and seasons and relied on it for growing food and storing water. it is believed that the great Inca and Khmer people were decimated due to extreme drought conditions that destroyed their staple crop diets.
Perhaps one of the most spectacular weather occurrences that we can observe from anywhere in the world is lightning and its accompanying partner thunder. Although it might not seem like it but thunder and lightning happen simultaneously. It is only the fact that sound waves and light waves travel at very different speeds that we hear and see them at different times with first lightning and then thunder. By counting the pause between the two you can roughly predict where the center of the storm is and how far away from it you are.
The best place to see the regularity of lightning is actually from space. Considering a lightning bolt strikes the earth one hundred times a second or so, watching it from many miles above the stratosphere will give you a good idea of how often and where it most strikes the Earth. Of course it’s not possible for us all to head up to space, so there are several online platforms where you can watch real time lightning.
So how is lightning created? Well, it is simple physics really and certain meteorological conditions need to be in place. Air pressure plays a major role as does heat and humidity, which is why most thunder storms occur in tropical regions. With the right conditions in place positively charged particles begin to rub together creating a huge static charge. When the charge reaches its optimum it is discharged as a lightning bolt, and thunder is the sound of that discharge being released. The lightning can take numerous forms such as sheet, forked and more controversial bolt lightning.
With more than a billion volts of energy hitting the planet so many times a day you can imagine the destruction it can cause. Lightning causes around 2000 deaths a year and in cost terms to damaged property and wildfires it can create, scientists are constantly developing systems to monitor and predict strikes in the hope of saving both people and property from the destructive power of lightning. They use numerous sensors in order to record lightning real time across the globe.