Introduction to Lightning

Lightning is one of the oldest observed natural phenomena on earth. At the same time, it also is one of the least understood. While lightning is simply a gigantic spark of static electricity (the same kind of electricity that sometimes shocks you when you touch a doorknob), scientists do not have a complete grasp on how it works, or how it interacts with solar flares impacting the upper atmosphere or the earth's electromagnetic field.

Lightning has been seen in volcanic eruptions, extremely intense forest fires, surface nuclear detonations, heavy snowstorms, and in large hurricanes. However, it is most often seen in thunderstorms. In fact, lightning (and the resulting thunder) is what makes a storm a thunderstorm.

At any given moment, there can be as many as 2,000 thunderstorms occurring across the globe. This translates to more than 14.5 MILLION storms each year. NASA satellite research indicated these storms produce lightning flashes about 40 times a second worldwide.

This is a change from the commonly accepted value of 100 flashes per second which was an estimate from 1925. Whether it is 40, 100, or somewhere in between, we live on an electrified planet.

Annual number of lightning flashes based on observations from NASA satellites.