BY CHUCK SMITH
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one in a series of articles about severe weather awareness.)
Most Kansans who have met someone from another part of the country, or from another nation, have had to answer the question: “Have you ever seen a tornado?”
And for many of us, despite a lifetime of Kansas experience, is most likely that we think we’ve seen a funnel far off, or that we’ve seen plenty on TV.
On the other hand, all of us have experienced one of the most powerful natural forces on earth, and we are certain to experience it again.
Weather experts warn us that we are much more likely to get too close to lightning than we are to a tornado and unless we are careful, we are likely to get too close to this incredible force again — perhaps before the end of the week, since we are forecast to have possibilities of thunderstorms in the next few days.
According to information from the National Weather Service, lightning is one of the most powerful forces we will witness.
“Lightning is fascinating to watch but also extremely dangerous.
“In the United States, there are about 25 million lightning flashes every year. Each of those 25 million flashes is a potential killer.
“While lightning fatalities have decreased over the past 30 years, lightning continues to be one of the top three storm-related killers in the United States. In addition, lightning injures many more people than it kills and leaves some victims with life-long health problems.”
Most of us have heard childhood explanations of lightning, but here is what it really is, according to the NWS:
“Lightning is a giant spark of electricity in the atmosphere or between the atmosphere and the ground.
“In the initial stages of development, air acts as an insulator between the positive and negative charges in the cloud and between the cloud and the ground; however, when the differences in charges become too great, this insulating capacity of the air breaks down and there is a rapid discharge of electricity that we know as lightning.”
Not only does lightning create a very bright light, not only does it create a loud noise, but it also creates incredible amounts of heat.
“It depends what the lightning is passing through. As lightning passes through air, it can heat the air to 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit: about 5 times hotter than the surface of the sun,” the NWS explains.
It all adds up to a very dangerous situation that requires our action. “Understanding the dangers of lightning is important so that you can get to a safe place when thunderstorms threaten. If you hear thunder — even a distant rumble or a crackling aloft — you are already in danger of becoming a lightning victim,” the NWS warns.