Minnesota Flyer - Serving Midwest Aviation Since 1960

By Staff Reports
MnDOT Aeronautics 

Important lightning facts


Most aviators recognize the tremendous power of lightning, but few truly understand this unique/ natural phenomenon. Here are a few eye opening facts about lightning:

• A typical thunderstorm lasts approximately 30-45 minutes with lightning on average of 3-4 strokes per minute.

• While most tend to occur in the afternoon and evening during the spring and summer, thunderstorms can occur at any time of the day, and along frontal boundaries.

• Lightning can strike as far as 15 miles away from a thunderstorm.

• Lightning can occur even when it is not raining.

• Deaths caused by lightning average 93 per year. An additional 300 people are also injured by lightning annually.

• Of all those killed or injured by lightning, 84% are males; 16% are females.

• Most lightning incidents in the U.S. occur in the month of July.

• The average lightning stroke (bolt) is discharged from cloud to ground in half a second.

• There are roughly 5 to 10 times as many cloud-to-cloud flashes as there are cloud-to-ground flashes.

• On average, more people are killed by lightning than any other weather event, even though risk of being killed by lightning is 1:28,500 per exposed individual.

• A phobia called brontophobia is the fear of the sound of thunder. The fear of lightning is called keraunophobia.

• Lightning can spread out up to 60 feet upon striking the ground. The spreading process is called Radial Horizontal Arcing.

• A bolt of lightning will heat the surrounding air to 54,000 degrees Fahrenheit in 10 micro seconds or less.

• There are over 125 million flashes of lightning annually in the US; an estimated 25 million strike ground.

• There is roughly five to 10 times more Intra-Cloud (IC) than Cloud to Ground (CG) flashes of lightning.

• The vertical extent of a CG lightning channel averages 3-4 miles with a maximum height of about 6 miles.

• The record horizontal distance of a cloud flash is 118 miles (190 km) that occurred in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area.

• A man was struck by lightning during a blizzard in Minneapolis, Minnesota in March 1996

• Lightning’s speed varies as it moves through its highly charged environment. Though the surrounding air is ionized, there still remains some resistance the charge transfer, but an average bolt moves at between 68,000 to 90,000 miles per hour or 99,733 to 132,000 feet per second).

• The average flash could light a 100-watt bulb continuously for more than three months.

• A clap of thunder typically registers at about 120 dB in close proximity to the ground stroke.

• Thunder in close proximity is capable of producing temporary deafness and can cause rupturing of the ear's tympanic membrane, leading to hearing damage or deafness.

• Florida has the most strikes in the U.S. — about 12 strikes per square kilometer per year.

• There are some 2,000 thunderstorms globally at any one time, producing some 75-100 lightning strikes to earth per second.

* Information from the National Lightning Safety Institute.


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