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Lightning Basics and Facts

Lightning has fascinated mankind for thousands of years. The powerful blasts of electricity even inspired Benjamin Franklin and his kite!

Lightning is traditionally found in the swirling winds of a thunderstorm. One area develops a positive charge of energy, while another area develops a negative charge. When that difference becomes too great, a discharge occurs and the power flows from the positive to negative areas to equalize the charges. That discharge is the lightning we see.

The discharge can occur between a cloud and the ground, or even different parts of a cloud. The energy is so powerful that the air is heated up to 50,000 degrees in an instant. This immediate expansion of air creates a shock wave, which we hear as thunder.

Lightning strikes average about 6 miles in length from where the bolt begins to where it ends, and can contain up to a billion volts of energy. Across the earth, there are about 100 lightning strikes every second. In the US, around 200 people die each year because of a lightning strike.

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