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WIS Storm Chasers Kids Club

Lightning

WIS Fact File
Since thunder is the result of lightning, you can estimate how far away lightning is by waiting for the sound. When you see the flash, start counting the seconds until you hear the clap of thunder. Each second represents about 1,000 feet of distance between you and the lightning. It's not magic, just knowing that the speed of sound is much slower, relatively speaking, than the speed of light.

Lightning is electricity produced during thunderstorms when air molecules rub together. If you rub a balloon on your head on a dry day, you may notice your hair trying to stick to the balloon.

And if you've ever run the soles of your shoes across the carpet and then given someone a shock just by touching them, you have reproduced electricity in the same way lightning happens.

Thunderstorms are caused by rising air lifting high into the sky where the clouds cool and become heavier. As they sink back down to earth, the up and down motion causes friction, just like with the balloon or your shoes.

Bolts of electricity can move from cloud to cloud, from cloud to the ground, or stay inside a cloud. The bolts that reach the ground are the most dangerous.

A single bolt of lightning has a temperature of 50,000 degrees. The temperature of the sun is only 11,000 degrees.

A typical bolt of lightning is only 1/4 inch thick, but it travels at 93,000 miles per second. The extreme heat and speed of lightning produces a "boom", the sound we call thunder.

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