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Amazing Lightning Stories Recently

Jon Erdman
Published: May 11, 2013

An Electric Gulf Coast!

Hourly rate of cloud-to-ground lightning strikes associated with twin thunderstorm clusters on the morning of May 10, 2013.

Recently, while severe thunderstorms have produced hail, high winds, a few tornadoes, and local flash flooding, one could argue the most compelling stories over the last week or so have been due to lightning.  Let's recount these factoids:

1) Incredible lightning rates

The map above is a screengrab of radar and lightning strikes from Friday morning, May 10, 2013.  You'll notice two main clusters of thunderstorms, one from western Alabama to Louisiana and a second in central Texas.  

Hourly cloud-to-ground lightning flash rates in the two clusters exceeded 5,000 per hour!  These thunderstorm clusters, known as "mesoscale convective systems" (MCS), common to the South and Midwest particularly in late spring and summer, are well-known, prolific lightning producers (not to mention crucial for summer rainfall in the Plains).

The central Texas MCS then surged east into the Houston metro area by late morning, producing flooding rainfall and, yes, frequent cloud-to-ground lightning.  All told, this tweet from the National Weather Service office was perhaps the most stunning of all.

It is estimated lightning strikes the Earth about 100 times each second.  According to a 2004 study by Krider and Kehoe, North America experiences around 30 million cloud-to-ground lightning strikes each year, on average.

It wasn't just the lightning rates that were amazing.  Next, let's see what lightning strikes left in their wake.


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