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Amazing Lightning Stories Recently

Jon Erdman
Published: May 11, 2013

3) Lightning How Far Away?

Radar and lightning strikes over northern Alabama on the evening of April 27, 2013. Downtown Huntsville, Ala. is at center of yellow rings. (Image credit: NWS-Huntsville, North Alabama Lightning Array)

You may have heard the term "bolt from the blue", describing a cloud-to-ground lightning strike miles away from a parent thunderstorm.  

One such occurrence occurred two weeks ago unnervingly close to a weekend festival.

The image you see above, courtesy of the National Weather Service in Huntsville, Ala. shows a small cluster of thunderstorms well southwest of Downtown Huntsville, Ala. (at the center of the yellow concentric circles near the top of the image), where the Panopy Festival was taking place the evening of April 27, 2013.  

Typical "bolts from the blue"

Annotated on that image is a single lightning strike detected 50 miles from the parent thunderstorms.  

How is this possible?  

You've probably seen a thunderstorm's anvil, the wispy top of a cumulonimbus cloud, blown downstream sometimes tens of miles from the thunderstorms itself.  

This anvil contains tiny ice crystals, which gain an electric charge.  If the charge builds up enough, a lightning strike can occur from the thunderstorm's anvil.  In the Huntsville, Ala. case above, this wasn't exactly a "bolt from the blue", in that skies were cloud-covered.  

However, the following general principles apply:  

  • Be aware of the threat of thunderstorms in your area if you're planning to be outside.  Download The Weather Channel app for your smartphone or tablet.  
  • If you hear thunder or see lightning, even if it appears "distant", find substantial shelter immediately and wait until 30 minutes after you hear the last rumble of thunder.
  • Avoid the use of anything attached to electrical wiring or plumbing while indoors, including working on a computer or taking a shower, until the storm passes.

Over an average lifetime, the odds are 3,000:1 you'll get struck by lightning.  The typical person comes within 500 feet of a lightning strike each year.  Don't become a statistic! 

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PHOTOS:  Lightning Strikes - Iconic Places

St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican

St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican

Lightning strikes the roof of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on Feb. 11, 2013, hours after Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation, effective Feb. 28, as leader of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics. (Filippo Montefortef/AFP/Getty Images)

  • St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican
  • Eiffel Tower, Paris
  • Las Vegas Strip
  • Parthenon, Athens
  • Turning Torso, Malo, Sweden
  • Washington Monument, Washington, D.C.
  • Rathaus, Vienna
  • Bellevue Castle, Berlin
  • CN Tower, Toronto
  • West Point Light House, Wisconsin
  • Las Vegas Strip
  • International Finance Center, Hong Kong
  • Empire State Building, New York

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