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WeatherTalk: Lightning basics

Lightning strikes somewhere on Earth around 30 times a second.

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FARGO — Around the world, lightning happens about 3 million times a year, or about 30 times a second. Not all lightning strikes the ground. Lightning can also occur within a cloud or go between clouds. Most of us associate lightning with rain storms because that is where it is most commonly seen. However, lightning can also happen in volcano eruptions. In arid climates, lightning often happens in storms producing little or no rain. In winter, lightning occasionally happens when it is snowing.

We usually don’t think about weather on other planets, but lightning has been observed in the atmospheres of Mars, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn. In all of these cases, lightning is a big spark caused by charge separation due to static electricity. The spark heats the air it passes through, causing the air to suddenly expand, which causes a shock wave we hear as thunder.

Related Topics: WEATHER
John Wheeler is Chief Meteorologist for WDAY, a position he has had since May of 1985. Wheeler grew up in the South, in Louisiana and Alabama, and cites his family's move to the Midwest as important to developing his fascination with weather and climate. Wheeler lived in Wisconsin and Iowa as a teenager. He attended Iowa State University and achieved a B.S. degree in Meteorology in 1984. Wheeler worked about a year at WOI-TV in central Iowa before moving to Fargo and WDAY..
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