January 22nd, 2012 19:30 EST
Lightening Never Strikes the Same Place Twice? Or, Does it?
How many times have you heard the old saying lightening never strikes twice? What they are referring to when using this saying is that lightening never strikes the same place twice? I beg to differ on what this saying is referring to.
First of all if you have ever watched a raging thunderstorm from the safety of your living room or bedroom and it is one of those thunderstorms where it seems like the bolts of lightning are raining down harder than the monsoon of rain drops that are falling like speeding bullets from the cumulus clouds that have taken over the blue sky and made it look like a bed of dirty laundry then you know when you see each bolt of lightning striking that some of the bolts look like they had just hit that same spot a second or so earlier. That is probably the case.
What about the old Shuttle Launch Pad at Cape Canaveral, Florida? How many times has it been hit by lightning more than once? Or, what about high rise buildings and especially the Empire State Building in New York? The Empire State building which has been around since 1931 averages around twenty-five or so times a year of getting hit by lighting so if we do the math the Empire State Building has been hit a total of 2,025 times by lightning.
Also, we hear about people getting stuck by lightning and surviving only to have an incredible story to tell of what it was like and I am sure it was a little more intense than sticking your finger in a light socket and curling your hair among other parts. Just ask Roy Sullivan who is one of the many survivors of getting hit by a bolt of lightning. He was struck seven times and still is going although I am sure now every time he hears a clap of thunder he probably hits the deck wherever he may be.
The basic concept of why a tall building, a tree , a mountain a tall person and so on is hit by lightning before that particular bolt of lightning hits the ground is that lightning works like this, "lightning is simply trying to balance a charge separation; positive and negative. Very tall objects such as skyscrapers, mountains and radio towers are more likely to be struck because they narrow the gap between the charge separation of the ground below and the oppositely charge cloud above. When the charge builds up enough to overcome the resistance of the air, the opposite charge will rush upwards along the structure more easily than through the air and as a result the gap between the two charges is lessened increasing the chance of a strike." (www.weatherimagery.com, 2005).
But in a perfect world this would be the case. Lightening does not always strike the tallest objects first or even at all. What about a tall tree sitting next to a house? A lot of time the house may be struck and the tree left alone by the bolt of lightning even though the tree may be taller than the house. So, if lightning always struck the tallest objects first, then every telephone pole, tree, tall object or whatever that was sitting in an open area would always be struck first and every lighting rod would always work and scientist could just about predict the next strike of lighting.
Lighting is like a lot of element we don`t understand in science, it is a mystery wrapped in a riddle. Just remember, if you are out on one of your many strolls in spring or summer depending on what part of the country you live in and you get caught in an unsuspecting thunderstorm that rolls in from out of nowhere and the lightning bolts start coming down like you were a big target in an archery contest, grab your pooch and hit the ground wherever you are and curl up in a ball like you were still sitting in your Mother`s womb because that is really all you can do to seek shelter. You don`t want to try to out run the storm because at that point it is too late you are already caught in it and are sitting in harm way if you are out in the middle of nowhere with nothing around you. I guess if you are somewhere where there may be shelter like a building or something then I would probably try to sprint over to the shelter and get out of the storm.
So, in this concept "lightning doesn`t know at 50,000 feet that it`s going to strike your neighbors satellite dish. Lightning zigzags down to the ground by forming step-leaders, re-evaluating at each step where it`s going next. Sometimes left, sometimes right, sometimes down, sometimes up. Once the step-leader approaches a grounded object, a streamer composed of the opposite charge shoots upwards. One can shoot up from a telephone pole, a tree, a car or all three simultaneously. Whichever streamer connects with the descending step leader first will complete the circuit and trigger a mass rush of electricity creating a lightning bolt. But the taller object might not be the closest target and it might not throw up as tall a streamer. The tallest object may be just a 100 feet further away than a shorter one and the shorter one will get hit because its streamer made contact with the step leader first." (www.weatherimagery.com, 2005)
Also, if you have ever watched lighting flashing and hitting an object you may have noticed in a lot of cases that the flash of the lighting pulsates of flashes more than once for a few seconds that is that particular bolt of lightning hitting the same object more than once or many times in a short period of time.
So, the next time you are out in a spring thunderstorm don`t think that if you were ever struck by lightning before in your life and you survived that since you were struck before and you believe in the old saying that lighting never strikes in the same place twice and you are now immune or bullet proof from being struck again, think again -lighting does strike in the same place twice and so on.
Can Lightning Strike the Same Place Twice? Weather Imagery, (www.weatherimagery.com) 2005.
Photo Credit: WikiMedia Commons