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Powerful Weather Forces: Lightning, Thunder and Thunderstorm

Thunderstorm

A thunderstorm is a storm with lightning and thunder. A storm is a disturbance of the normal condition of the atmosphere, manifesting itself by winds of unusual force or direction, often accompanied by rain, snow, hail, thunder, and lightning, or flying sand or dust. Thunderstorm is produced by a cumulonimbus cloud, usually producing gusty winds, heavy rain and sometimes hail. The basic ingredients used to make a thunderstorm are moisture, unstable air and lift. You need moisture to form clouds and rain. You need unstable air that is relatively warm and can rise rapidly. Finally, you need lift. This can form from sea breezes or mountains. Thunderstorms can occur year-round and at all hours. But they are most likely to happen in the spring and summer months and during the afternoon and evening hours.

Lightning

Lightning is a bright flash of electricity produced by a thunderstorm. All thunderstorms produce lightning and are very dangerous. If you hear the sound of thunder, then you are in danger from lightning. Lightning kills and injures more people each year than hurricanes or tornadoes; between 75 to 100 people.

What causes lightning?

Lightning is an electric current. Within a thundercloud way up in the sky, many small bits of ice (frozen raindrops) bump into each other as they move around in the air. All of those collisions create an electric charge. After a while, the whole cloud fills up with electrical charges. The positive charges or protons form at the top of the cloud and the negative charges or electrons form at the bottom of the cloud. Since opposites attract, that causes a positive charge to build up on the ground beneath the cloud. The grounds electrical charge concentrates around anything that sticks up, such as mountains, people, or single trees. The charge coming up from these points eventually connects with a charge reaching down from the clouds and – zap – lightning strikes!

Lightning seems to be clear or a white-yellow colour, but it really depends on the background and it is approximately 54,000 degrees Fahrenheit. That is six times hotter than the surface of the sun!

Have you ever rubbed your feet across carpet and then touched a metal door handle? If so, then you know that you can get shocked! Lightning works in the same way. Your rubber-soled shoes picked up stray electrons from the carpet. Those electrons built up on your shoes giving them a static charge. (Static means not moving.) Static charges are always “looking” for the first opportunity to “escape,” or discharge. Your contact with a metal doorknob—or car handle or anything that conducts electricity—presents that opportunity and the excess electrons jump at the chance.

Thunder

Thunder is the sound caused by lightning. Depending on the distance and nature of the lightning, thunder can range from a sharp, loud crack to a long, low rumble (brontide). The sudden increase in pressure and temperature from lightning produces rapid expansion of the air surrounding and within a bolt of lightning. In turn, this expansion of air creates a sonic shock wave, similar to a sonic boom, which produces the sound of thunder, often referred to as a clap, crack, or peal of thunder. The distance of the lightning can be calculated by the listener based on the time interval from when the lightning is seen to when the sound is heard.

References: SciJinks & Weather Wiz Kids 

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