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Special Report: The lifespan of lightning

9:07 PM, Aug 18, 2013   |    comments
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Once again, Florida leads the country in lightning fatalities so far this year with three. Most folks do not realize that lightning moves at more than 9 million miles per hour. 

This is why meteorologists say when the thunder roars, head indoors. Lightning easily outraces the rain and most people are struck ahead of and behind a storm.

Lightning's formation and lifespan are even more amazing. The life begins with extreme updrafts and downdrafts inside of a cloud. It is like a big snowball fight. The top of the cloud that can reach over 10 miles high is full of hail and ice which gives the cloud a positive charge. The warmer bottom part of the cloud is made of water droplets giving it a negative charge. This creates an incredible charge and lightning is created as the opposite charges attract.

Most lightning stays in the cloud, but 20 percent of the lightning makes it to the ground. This happens when the negative charge is so strong that it is looking for the easiest way to release this charge. 

Think of lightning acting like static electricity trying to find a door knob. It finds the door knob by flowing to the ground in stepped leaders that look like tree branches. On the ground this causes positive charges or streamers to gather at the tallest points. When these charges meet you see the bright flash in the sky or return stroke.

It all happens so fast it only looks like one bolt but you now know it is two that meet and in this channel of energy you can have several return strokes. 

So remember, lightning is the number one killer in Florida and it all happens faster than a blink of an eye. Lightning happens year-round with the peak of our season from May through October. 

Next time you see lightning near you, don't be nature's next door knob.

First Coast News