For the record, lightning can and does strike twice in the same place. New York City’s Empire State Building provides one prime example; the structure is hit by lightning an average of 23 times each year. One park ranger had been struck by lighting seven times before his death. In Colorado, a house in Franktown has been struck three times. And lightning can even strike several times in the same place during one discharge.
Lightning includes three major forms. Flash or stroke lightning is the most common. Sheet lightning–sometimes called heat lightning–appears as a sudden, twitching glow on the horizon. It’s usually the reflection of distant lightning flashes happening too far away to hear the thunder. Ball lightning is the most mysterious form, surrounded by much superstition. Lightning strikes occur mainly from cloud to cloud or from cloud to ground, but even from ground to cloud.
More than just electrical spectacle, lightning plays a wondrous role in the web of life. For all its destructive tendency, lightning also is a source of creation because it creates fixed nitrogen, a component of protein essential to all life forms. Though the atmosphere is composed of 79 percent nitrogen gas, plant life cannot use air as a direct nitrogen source.
Nitrate rich rain is usually accompanied by lightning and thunder. One of the sensual sounds of summer, thunder is best considered as nature’s wake up call. Caused by shock waves resulting from the rapid heating and cooling of air near lighting, the sound of thunder means that lightning poses a threat. As the stormy voice of lightning, thunder grumbles fair warning: Take cover; take precautions; beware.
Many lightning deaths and injuries happen before or after a thunderstorm’s peak. Consequently, a relatively new lightning safety code is 30-30: Seek refuge when thunderclap sounds within 30 seconds after a lighting flash; and don’t resume activity until 30 minutes after the last thunder clap.
Read Part One and Part Three of this series.
••• “Cultivate your corner of the world. You grow your garden; your garden grows you.” •••
Colleen Smith’s debut novel Glass Halo, set in Denver, was a finalist for the Santa Fe Literary Prize and was praised in the latest issue of The Bloomsbury Review. The novel is available online and through your favorite bookstore.
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