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Fun Facts: How Static Electricity Creates Lightning


Did you know our globe has an electrical circuit? Things such as thunderstorms, fair weather conditions, and solar radiation affect the electrical current all the time. This phenomenon is widely studied by physicists and earth scientists that continually debate about the formation of lightning in clouds. Although there is much speculation about this topic, this is definitely what we do know; static electricity creates lightning.

How Positive and Negative Charges are Created

Within a storm cloud there are tiny hydrometeors such as hail or water droplets that are bombarding into each other. The upward drafts of warm air into cold air that initially create thunderstorm clouds also propel small water droplets towards the top of the cloud which then turn into ice. When the ice forms into hail and can no longer be supported by the updraught, they fall down colliding into ice particles that transfer electrons, giving it a negative charge. The ice in updraught that has lost electrons is now positively charged. This has now created an electric field. The negative charge at the base of the cloud repels the negative charges on the Earth’s surface and leaves a positively charged ground.

Positive Attracts Negative

Positively charged objects on the surface reach out upward streamers of charges towards negatively charged stepped leaders from the base of the clouds. When they meet, the positive streamer establishes the path and - BOOM! - a big discharge of electrical current starts to travel at around 270,000 mph and lighting is created. The sound you hear afterwards is caused by the air expanding rapidly due to the heat of the bolt and then collapsing.

Practice Safety

Although the chances of getting struck by lightning are slim, always practice thorough safety precautions when a thunderstorm is nearby. Lightning is also notorious for damaging electrical panels and plugged-in electronics at home. To prevent damage to your electronics, be sure to use a quality surge protector to re-direct fluctuating voltages. If you feel you have a damaged electrical panel, call us at (210) 899-2430 and one of our dispatchers will be glad to connect you with one of our electricians who will be able to conduct a thorough investigation to keep your home safe.