Crash, Boom, Bang!

Each and every day many thousands of thunderstorms are rumbling around our earth. Scientists estimate that the earth is struck by lightning ten times every second! In the United States, Florida has the most thunderstorms and California has the least.

If you have ever seen lightning, you know how bright it is. When lightning occurs at night, it is bright enough to light up your whole yard. Do you know what makes it so bright? The same thing that makes light bulbs light up—electricity. Lightning is a giant electric spark.

Have you ever walked across a carpet, reached out to open the door, and had a spark jump between your hand and the doorknob? That was a small electric spark. Lightning is a giant spark that jumps between clouds, from clouds to the ground, or from the ground to clouds.

When electricity goes through a light bulb, the bulb gets very hot. When electricity goes through the air with a lightning bolt, the air is heated up five times hotter than the sun! Since hot things tend to expand or move outward, the hot air caused by lightning rushes away and crashes into the air that wasn’t heated. The result? Crash, boom, bang, rumble … rumble … rumble—the sound we call thunder.

If lightning is electricity and thunder is sound, which do you think is more dangerous? If you think lightning, you are exactly right. Thunder may frighten us, but it can’t hurt us!

We have to be very careful about lightning. Some people claim lightning never hits the same place twice, but don’t you believe it! The Empire State Building in New York is hit by lightning about forty times a year. In fact, one day it was hit eight times in twenty-four minutes. If a building is protected by lightning rods, the people in the building are usually safe.

Two hundred years ago people did not know what lightning was. Then Benjamin Franklin discovered that it is electricity. Today we know a lot more about electricity, and we can be perfectly safe during a thunderstorm if we observe some safety rules.

If you are outdoors when a thunderstorm comes along, don’t go swimming or boating in a lake. Tall trees are often hit by lightning, so it is better to get wet from the rain than to seek shelter under a tree. An automobile is a very safe place to be during a thunderstorm.

When you are in your house and lightning is flashing outside, don’t take a bath or touch the faucets. You should not touch any electrical apliances, such as a television, because if lightning should hit your house, it will go through your plumbing or your electrical wiring on its way to the ground.

The next time you have a thunderstorm in your neighborhood you can figure out how far away the lightning is. When a lightning bolt strikes, the bright flash of light and the crashing sound of the thunder start moving toward you. The light travels very fast and reaches your eyes before you can even blink.

Sound moves slower. In fact, it takes five seconds for sound to travel one mile. So as soon as you see a flash of the lightning, start counting the number of seconds until you hear the thunder. If it takes five seconds, then the lightning is one mile away from you. If it takes ten seconds to hear the sound, then lightning is two miles away. If a lightning flash and thunder come right together, that means the lightning is very close—probably right in your yard!

[illustration] Illustrated by Dick Brown