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Lightning is a sudden discharge of electricity between charged regions of thunderclouds

and the ground. Only about 25 percent of lightning strikes are cloud-to-ground. The rest
are either cloud-to-cloud or intracloud.

Another lightning hot spot is in the Himalayas where the extreme local topography forces
the convergence of air masses from the Indian Ocean.

And where does lightning strike most frequently? Central Africa. "There you get
thunderstorms all year 'round," "[It's a result of] weather patterns, air flow from the
Atlantic Ocean, and enhancement by mountainous areas."

There are three main problems with harnessing lightning as a source of energy. First,
lightning is not consistent. This is not important, since this source of energy would only
be used to decrease our dependency from other sources of energy that cause pollution.
Lightning would never be able to completely replace fossil fuels by itself; however it
could be more economical and safer for the environment. Second, capturing lightning
requires a lot of lightning rods and luck. I believe this is a minor issue too. Third and
finally, converting lightning into a useful form of energy is the most difficult problem.
Lightning is too strong of an electrical current to be easily stored directly into batteries.
The cost of doing so would be astronomical too.

There are a couple problems. First, as you have noted, there is no way to know when or
where one will strike. Another problem is even if one could induce a strike, there is a
storage problem. Lightning is powerful, but very very brief. There is currently no way to
store that much power in the brief time that the lightning strikes. Storage units for
electricity typically need time to safely build and store the energy, certainly much longer
than the second or two that lightning occurs at any one time

New Technologies - Harnessing Electrical Power from


Ball Lightning

Ball lightning is an odd phenomenon that can occur during lightning storms. It is so rare
and brief an occurance that scientists have been unable to determine the exact cause of it
untill just a few years ago. I recently wondered if anyone had considered harenssing
power from these floating sparks of plasma. Researchers have spent decades trying to
harness elctricity from lightning with no success. A quick Google for Ball lightning
turned up quite a lot of information. This clip from an article on ball lightning quotes a
New Zealand scientists explanation of how it occurs.
The first is regular lightning. Second, the lightning must hit a structure such as a building,
soil, or a tree. The struck object must have a metallic or an oxide component.

Now I wonder what would happen if during a thunderstorm one flew a kite that was
actually a small helium balloon coated with iron particles or a ceramic dust, or chunks of
ceramics or iron. Would it cause a Ball Lightning display along with the exploding
helium ? Would it be like throwing iron filings on a flame ? Could you ignite it with a
laser instead of waiting for a storm ?
Scientists have been studying this phenomenon and trying to replicate it for years. One of
the most recent successes at creating ball lightning in the lab was accomplished at Tel
Aviv university in Israel by researchers Eli Ferby and Vladimir Dikhtyar. Microwaves
produced from the magnetron of a common 600 watt microwave oven, were focused into
a space of a single cubic centimetre and injected through a rod into a substrate made from
a variety of ceramic materials, creating a hot spot that becomes a floating molten ball as
the rod is removed.

So harenssing power from lightning balls has not only been considered, it has been
recreated in the lab and suggested in the article on PhysicsWeb that lab-generated
fireballs could be used in practical applications such as coating, deposition, combustion
and energy production. I hav'nt read about any possible military applications though i
assume those experiments are well under way, and there may be some super top secret
technologies in the works.

Harnessing Lightning

Lightning is amazing. There are over over 3 million lightning flashes a day at an average
of 40 flashes a second.
An average stroke can easily release 250 kilowatt-hours of energy, enough to operate a
100-watt light bulb continuously for more than three months.
Lightning Fact Sheet
At an average of 250 kw-h per flash thats 864,ooo,ooo kw-h per day. It is a mind
boggling amount of power that has yet to be fully understood. There is enough power in
lightning that if it could be harnessed there would be no energy crisis. Electron
accelerators suspend electrons in a magnetic feild as they are forced through a looped
chamber miles in diameter. It may be feasible that the charge from lightning could be
looped in a similar way, forced through a magnetic feild in a loop as a way to store it.
PESWiki.com -- Pure Energy Systems Wiki: Finding and facilitating breakthrough
clean energy technologies.

Directory:Lightning Power
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This directory addresses the power of lightning and it's utilization. There are several
questions concerning this, but the most pertinent are (a) how to harness that power, and
(b) whether there are substantial reasons not to.

Even if a harnessing method were derived, the primary drawback of lightning power is its
inconsistency. Storms might come regularly into some regions, but would enough
lightning potential fall within the range of the device to make it worth while? See
NOVA's special on Lightning (1989), to see how difficult it is to draw down lightning
even in the most prone areas, using rockets with teathers attached. [1]

Contents
[hide]

• 1 The Power of Lightning


o 1.1 Overviews
o 1.2 Videos
o 1.3 The Discharge
o 1.4 General Power
o 1.5 Lightning and the Grid
 1.5.1 Flashovers
o 1.6 Harnessing Lightning Power
o 1.7 Calling Down a Lightning Strike
o 1.8 Building A Lighting Harnessing Power Plant
o 1.9 Logic-Co
o 1.10 Fermilab
o 1.11 PhysicsAstronomy.com
o 1.12 Halfbakery Proposals
o 1.13 Weatherwise Proposal
o 1.14 Counter Indications
o 1.15 Infrequency
 1.15.1 (response) Consider it Supplementive
o 1.16 Rate of Utilization
 1.16.1 (response) Reservoir Storage
o 1.17 DC to AC Losses
 1.17.1 (response) So Some Gets Lost
o 1.18 Aesthetics
 1.18.1 (response)
 1.18.2 (response)
o 1.19 Messing with Nature's Cycles
 1.19.1 (response) Compromise Solutions
o 1.20 Projects Tapping Lightning Power
o 1.21 Alternate Energy Holdings, Inc
o 1.22 Related Products
o 1.23 Humor
o 1.24 Comments
o 1.25 Sponsor

o 1.26 See also


The Power of Lightning
"Each year lightning destroys more property and causes more injuries than hurricanes,
floods and tornadoes combined? It can cause structural damage to buildings, destroy
electronics and damage electrical and communication systems....the cost of this damage
can be astounding!" [2]

Overviews
• Biggest Lightning Rod (video) - Lightning strikes Toronto's CN Tower (tallest
tower in world) around 75 times a year! Being studied to understand those bolts
from above. (DiscoveryChannel.ca; May 17, 2005)

• Stunning Facts About Lightning - Lightning is exciting and frightful at the


same time. Seven stunning facts, with many amazing photos.

Videos
(3:53 minutes)

• LIVING IN LIGHTNING ALLEY NATURE LIGHTNING STRIKE


MUSIC VIDEO - This was filmed in Central Florida over 3 days. We added
some music for fun. The jet was not hit by lightning. It was further behind as the
Bolt had no thunder. (GreenPowerScience; YouTube; July 11, 2008)

The Discharge
Reference
"Lightning" page by GSU's Hyperphysics

• A lightning strike is composed of several stroke events.


• Voltage: A typical lightning bolt bridges a potential difference (voltage) of
several hundred million volts.
• A typical lightning bolt may transfer 1020 electrons in a fraction of a second,
developing a peak current of up to 1000 kiloamperes.
• Current: Most measurements have been in the range 5,000 to 20,000 amps.
Currents over 200,000 amps have been reported.
• Hot v Cold Lightning: Most commonly, the lightning current ceases in about a
millisecond for a given stroke, but sometimes there is a continuing current on the
order of 100 amps following one or more of the strokes. This is called "hot
lightning" and it is the cause of lightning fires according to Uman. The
temperatures of lightning are 8,300-33,000°C for both "cold" and "hot" lightning -
it is the continuing current that starts some 10,000 fires per year in the U.S. in the
estimation of Uman.
• Total power: A moderate thunderstorm generates several hundred megawatts of
electrical power.

• "Gigantic Jets" Blast Electricity Into the Ionosphere - These lightning bolts
that reach from cloud tops upward into the ionosphere, as high as 90 kilometers,
have been measured by researches at Duke University to carry as much energy
skyward as ordinary lightning strikes carry to the ground. (New Scientist; Aug. 23,
2009)

General Power
• One strike has enough energy to light 150,000,000 light bulbs. (Discovery.ca;
May 17)

The following data is from an Atlanta Journal article (cited here)

• About 95 people die from lightning yearly in the U.S.


• A single thunderstorm can release 470 million litres of water (that's the volume of
16 Washington Monuments).
• One storm can discharge enough energy to supply the entire U.S. with electricity
for 20 minutes
• A large Midwestern cumulonimbus can tower 20-25 km (Mount Everest is 8.8 km
high.)
• There are approximately 2,000 thunderstorms at any given moment worldwide.

Lightning and the Grid


Flashovers

West Virginia Lightning Flashover


Reference
http://wvlightning.com/powerflash.html
"Chances are, you've seen it. Right after a lightning strike -- a bright, mysterious
blue-green glow in the sky, coming from ... the ground? This time it's not
lightning - it's a brief man-made fireworks display produced by a short-circuited
power line."

1. A lightning bolt strikes one of the live power lines, then jumps across an insulator
to reach the grounded tower.
2. The section of lightning channel across the insulator acts as a conductor, causing a
short circuit.
3. Man-made power from the live wire begins flowing through the section of old
lightning channel in an intensely bright arc.
4. Circuit breakers at a substation detect the short, then cut power to the affected line
momentarily to stop the arc.

Harnessing Lightning Power


"Lightning electricity technically does not need to be generated, only transformed into a
useful quality." (ref)
Calling Down a Lightning Strike

• Laser Triggers Electrical Activity In Thunderstorm - A team of European


scientists has deliberately triggered electrical activity in thunderclouds for the first
time by aiming high-power pulses of laser light into a thunderstorm. During two
passing thunderstorms, the researchers used laser pulses to create plasma
filaments that could conduct electricity. (SoftPedia; Apr. 14, 2008)

Building A Lighting Harnessing Power Plant


How hard would it be to build a power plant that harnesses the electricity generated
by lightning? Then, store the electricity and use it on-demand on the electric grid? Pie-
In-The-Sky?

This concept is perhaps not as impractical as it once was. The main limiting factor of
implementing a lightning capturing scheme such as this was the inability to be able to
store large amounts of electricity for later use. However, new Utility Scale Battery
technology or other energy storage technologies such as Flywheels or Capacitors could
be used to store the electricity captured from lightning in massive quanties, for later grid
use.

Obviously, a lightning capturing power plant would only be practical in regions with
frequent thunderstorms, such as Florida.

How hard would it be to build an array of lighting rods to capture periodic thunderstorm
electricity? The biggest hurdle would really be creating power plant infrastructure that
could survive the harsh surges created by lightning strikes, but even that seems possible
with current technology and materials. Electrical and building design engineers could
come up with an innovative way to make it work. Specially designed buffer/insulation
and transformer materials could be used to safely capture and harness the massive
amounts of electricity generated during a lighting strike, and transfer it to large storage
device for later use.

Logic-Co
On Dec. 7, 2007, Farid Fahim of Logic-Co wrote:
Logic-Co is an environmental company pursuing renewable energy in the form of
electricity from lightning.

"The rate of lightning is 100 flashes per second all over the globe. One flash = 4 strokes.
Each stroke has 10^12 Watts. This means that when Locig-Co succeeds to get one flash,
and trsnform it to electricity, that it is equal to a power station of 20 MW working for 50
hours continuously.

"Logic-Co is seeking a partner in USA to clean the environment."

Contact
Logic-Co
Tel & Fax: 00202 24322655
Mobile: 012 3358572
E-mail:

• logic_co@hotmail.com
• logicenvironment@yahoo.ca

MAIN OFFICE:
6TH B Bahst Badia St. (Saudia Buildings)
Shobra 11241
Cairo EGYPT

Fermilab
• Q/A about tapping lightning power

PhysicsAstronomy.com
• For Splitting Water - So, a large electric current will split water into oxygen and
hydrogen. Combusting hydrogen regenerates water and produces a lot of usable
energy. Is there any way to direct lightning through a closed container of water
that could then be split into gasses that could serve as fuel?

Halfbakery Proposals
• Harnessing Lightning with Tungsten Reservoir - "An array of lightning rods
would channel the electricity to a large underground reservoir of tungsten (or
other metal with a high specific heat). This would melt the metal, storing the
energy as heat. The energy can then be harnessed at a leisurely pace by creating
steam and generating electricity from it."
• Rods for Lightning Power - Make a huge tower connected to a huge capacitor and
on to the power grid... Every time it gets hit we get tons of energy.
o Space elevator - could be used as cloud charge harvester as well!
• Harness the power of random electrostatic discharge

• Space balloon - large array of balloons which would be tied to conductive lines.
If placed in a lightning prone area, strikes would generate constant energy (does
not have to be ground strikes)...
o cons: would the intense current fry any lines that we can create? these
lines would be a hazard to aircraft (this would have to be declared a no-fly
zone). Also, same storage issues as listed elsewhere.
o (posted here on Nov. 12, 2006 by User:Dachoste)

Weatherwise Proposal
• Q. "I have heard that one lightning strike would provide enough energy for a
medium sized town for a month. Is this true? How much power would it
provide?"

Answer by Weatherwise.org

"Capturing and using the energy in lightning has been the subject of many
imaginative proposals over the years, but there are practical reasons for not even
trying. If I relocated my house in central Florida, where the greatest flash density
in the United states occurs, I could maximize the chances of lightning hitting my
house. This area experiences about 10 cloud-to-ground strokes per square
kilometer per year. Because my house occupies much less than a square kilometer
of area, I could build a tall tower to attract or trigger lightning, thereby preventing
it from hitting neighboring houses but probably violating the local covenants and
greatly irritating my neighbors. I would also have to install a very large capacitor
to store the energy in each bolt so that it could be used as needed during the days
between lightning strikes. If my tower could attract 100 bolts a year‹and a real
300 meter (984-foot) tall tower in Florida does‹I could reduce or perhaps
eliminate my electric bill, but I'd have to be very careful to stay away from the
base of the tower during storms. It would not profit my neighbor to build a similar
tower because there wouldn't be enough lightning to go around.
"To summarize, the energy in lightning bolts is far too small to satisfy the
voracious energy appetites of a small town in an industrialized country. The
equipment needed to store the energy would probably not fit with the decor of
your living room, and if lightning were your only source of electrical power, you
would find yourself in the dark during dry spells."

Counter Indications
Reasons not to harness lightning power.

Infrequency
Not a regular, reliable input stream, but sporatic. Not feasible for a primary energy
source.

(response) Consider it Supplementive

As an augmentive source, this becomes additional energy that can be used at least for a
brief period.

"There are place on earth however, which are known for exceptional lightning activity
(such as lightning alley in Florida) which might one day fill the bill for this, much the
same as cost effective wind power generators have to be installed at specific locations on
earth where air speed is reliably high enough to do the necessary work." (ref)

"From what I understand, there are over 2000 lightning storms occuring at any given time
around the globe. The reason for this, is solar winds from the sun blowing across the
ionsphere. If we could focus the cumulative lightning strikes to a centralized location, we
could then not only have a constant, uniform, plasma tube of energy to tap off of any time
we want. Then we could use Tesla's wireless transmission to transmit power to any
location on the globe, providing the entire planet with all the free energy it could ever
use." Dan ND804@hotmail.com

Mechanicial storage beyond the atomic scale is inpracticial for this applicaiton. A new
concept is storage means could make this an idea with practicial applications.

I think there are indeed new material combinations offering infinite possibilities in this
sense; this goes especially for the future (as well as the frequency of storms - see
"Bladerunner") - but this would need dedicated experimentation and development which
on any serious scale WILL run into difficulties and obstructions coming from the
"fossils".. cheers jiri

Rate of Utilization
"Another issue would be transferring this massive block of power to the electrical
transmission grid in a slow enough manner to be absorbed by the system without
adversely affecting online generating stations, and without transmitting more power than
the grid can use." (ref)

(response) Reservoir Storage

Store the energy such that it can be extracted at the rate needed.

"Perhaps the new superconductors being developed can make a magnetic energy storage
device capable of handling the job (SMES)." (ref)
Clouds can store electricity just fine themselves. They are basically just huge
capacitors. Why not slowly extract thier energy by suspending a large branching
net of conductive rods and wires in the lower level of the cloud. The smaller,
more frequent stikes that would come in contact with this structure are more the
kind of thing we are looking for. The more intricate and large the net of wires is,
and the closer you get to touching every single charged droplet, the more evenly
distibuted through time the current will be.
Another idea! Suspend this net between 3 or more parallel cables which continue
upward to a massive kite in the jet stream. Tether the cables to electric trains
which attempt to follow the storm, and convert the energy to AC onboard and
direct it back into thier electric rails. =_)
Hey, why not use the high-altitude wind turbine capability to create a lead to
ground to conduct the current from the storm clouds! Or whould that be like
trying to collect electricity from a wind turbine during a hurricane?

DC to AC Losses
Electricity derived from lightning would be DC, and would need to be converted to AC
for grid usage.

(response) So Some Gets Lost

When the energy is free to begin, so what if you lose some.

Aesthetics
Lightning Towers would be considered an eyesore.

(response)

Get over it. Decorate it. Make it look like a tree. Also take this into account. Within a
century our conventional fossil fuels will have run out. By then most people would rather
deal with an eyesore rather than having to give up electricity. The true is we are really
going to have to grow up as a race and deal with alternative energies seriously or deal
with the impending world crisis which seems to already have started due to Hurricanes
such as Katrina.

(response)

Towers wouldn't be neccessary if wire leads were fired into the storm clouds by small
rockets no bigger than the kind used for fireworks.

Messing with Nature's Cycles


• Nature cycles, nitrogen cycle, nitrogen fixing in soil. Would harnessing lightning
power eliminate important rejuvinative cycles of nature, or could it be done with
minimal impact on nature's needs?

(response) Compromise Solutions

Lightning power harvesting devices could be rotated from one area to another so that no
one region's ecosystem is deprived of its quota of needed natural factors derived from
lightning.

Nitrogen-fixing cyanobacteria provides most of the nitrates that plants need. Fixation by
lightning only amounts to about 5% of the total.

Projects Tapping Lightning Power


"My latest test used an artificial lightning bolt for 1 second to charge a
diode/resistor wired 2,100VAC capacitor. The stored energy was dumped into a
CO2 cutting laser burning thru 1/4 inch steel. Only 3 turns of #10 wire used for
induction capture.
There are hurdles to overcome. Storage technology for power is getting better, I'm
not sure if it is 100% feasable to power homes yet. But will continue
experimenting." Steven LeRoy

• Livingstone Lightning - Todd Livingstone claims to have two working


prototypes for harnessing the power of lightning. Seeks assistance in taking the
project the distance.
o BLAM-O -- Power from Lightning] - Having demonstrated a smaller
prototype using artificial lightning, Todd Livingstone is now waiting for
the next lightning storm to test his full-scale prototype for harnessing the
energy of a lightning strike. Technology is a reverse of directed energy
weapons.(PESN; July 10, 2005)

Alternate Energy Holdings, Inc


Alternate Energy Holdings, Inc: A rapidly developing green energy holding corporation
with multiple alternative power projects under development, including marketable
lightning harvesting technology for electricity production. Harnessing the natural energy
produced from a bolt of lightning as a clean energy solution will not only eliminate
numerous environmental hazards associated with the energy industry, it will also
significantly reduce the costliness of power production. When amortized over four to
seven (4-7) years, a lightning farm will be able to produce and sell electricity for as low
as $0.005 per kilowatt hour, thus significantly undercutting the current production costs
of its competing energy sources.
Our project research team has successfully developed a model prototype to demonstrate
the ‘capturing’ capabilities of the lightning farm technology, and initial project focus will
be on the development of a mobile full-scale lightning farm to be tested during peak
lightning season (July through August) of 2007. For additional information and investor
relations, please visit http://www.alternateenergyholdings.com or email
research@alternateenergyholdings.com.

Related Products
• Lightning Detectors - Several makes and models at shopping.com.

• http://bondedlightning.com/ - Lightning protection for residential and commercial


applications; includes surge protection.

Humor

Image source: http://www.worth1000.com

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Category: Lightning

Harnessing Lightning and Using the Electricity


January 23rd, 2007 by imagery
The idea of harnessing lightning and using the
electricity to supplement our power grid has been
thought up many times in the past. But knowing when
and where lightning will strike, capturing the lightning
bolt, finding the right materials that could withstand the
sudden surge of electricity and pushing it onto the
electrical grid are not easy obstacles to overcome.
A typical lightning bolt produces about 10,000 amps but some bolts, such as the one that
struck the Apollo spacecraft upon liftoff in the 60’s, have measured well over 100,000
amps. Nowadays, there are large capacitors and batteries which could store the huge
amounts of electricity a lightning bolt creates, but would it be practical to try and harness
it? Surprisingly, no. There is very little power in a lightning bolt when you compare it to
how much power we really use in our homes and cities.

There’s no question thunderstorms generate a tremendous amount of electricity.


Ironically, when you convert a lightning bolt into watts, an even larger number is
produced. But when you convert the lightning into kilowatt-hours (the unit used to
measure the power we use in our homes) it’s rather insignificant. In fact, the average
lightning bolt contains about 250 kilowatt-hours of electricity. However, the average
household uses anywhere from 500 kilowatt-hours to 1500 kilowatt-hours of electricity
per month. So one average lightning bolt won’t even power the average home for half a
month let alone a small town or a large city. In addition, there are a few problems with
trying to harness and use the electricity generated by a lightning bolt.

Ironically, the electricity itself is one of them. Transferring this much electricity
in such a short amount of time onto the electrical grid would crush it. While not
impossible, you would need a place to temporarily store all the electricity,
perhaps in huge capacitors and/or batteries capable of an extremely quick charge
and then find some way of slowly trickling the charge onto the power grid.

While capacitors today can store huge amounts of electricity, most aren’t charged in
about 0.2 msec, the time it takes for a lightning bolt to discharge its 1,000,000 kilovolts
of electricity. Conversely, these large capacitors are usually charged “slowly” and then
quickly discharged in specialized applications (particle accelerators, lasers, rail guns, etc).
If you only captured a portion of the electricity produced by a lightning bolt, then you
would need more hits on a collection tower to make up the difference.

Taking this into consideration, one tower isn’t going to cut it. Even if it’s 100 feet tall,
that doesn’t guarantee a lightning bolt is going to hit it. You would need many towers
stretching 1000 feet or higher spread over a very large area that sees many thunderstorms
each year to increase the odds of capturing a lightning strike. Florida would be the most
likely location for such a lightning farm. Florida averages the most lightning strikes each
year with about 10 strikes per kilometer per year. So, if you have a bunch of towers set up
in a 1 kilometer area and these towers were able to attract all 10 lightning strikes for the
entire year, you would produce enough electricity to power 2 homes for a month. As you
can see … it’s simply not worth it which is why no one has ever tried to commercialize
lightning as a source of electricity.

However, one company thinks they may have found a way to harvest lightning for use on
the electrical grid. You can read about them at http://www.alternateenergyholdings.com/
Go Back to Main Page

Lightning Injury Facts


Myths, Miracles, and Mirages

Mary Ann Cooper, MD

Adapted from Seminars in Neurology, Volume 15, Number 4,


December 1995

Copyright © 1995

(Permission for use on this page kindly granted by Thieme Medical


Publishers Inc.)

An article about both lightning and electrical injuries

Injuries from man-made, generated,


or "technical" electricity have been
reported for only about 150 years;
but injuries from lightning must
surely predate written records.
Depictions of lightning affecting
people or events appear in writings
and drawings from almost every
ancient religion. Although such an
occurrence was sometimes
interpreted as a positive sign of
blessing, more often it was seen as a
sign of the god's warning or
vengeance.

Priests, the earliest astronomers and


meteorologists, became proficient at
weather prediction, interpreting
changes in weather as omens of good
or bad fortune, sometimes to the
advantage of their political mentors.
Observations of lightning and other
natural phenomena were often used
to decide matters of state, the
scheduling of battles or other events.
Lightning from the east was usually
seen as a good omen. This is
reasonable because it is probably the
end of a storm. Lightning from the
west was ominous, but also meant a
storm was probably approaching.

Over the centuries, superstitions and


myths have grown up about lightning
that include avoidance, protection,
the types of injuries, and their
treatment. In this article, I cannot be
all inclusive but will attempt to
discuss some of the more common
ideas, particularly those related to the
medical field, as well as some myths
about injuries from the newer form
of injury by generated electricity. I
will leave discussion of appropriate
lightning and electrical protection to
those who are more knowledgeable
in these areas and have been kind
enough to write articles for these
issues of Seminars.

Disclaimer: This article is not meant


to be a scientific treatise but to be
entertaining and perhaps
enlightening (no pun intended since
it is a different spelling). I am giving
my best reply to these myths based
on a composite of 20 years of
experience, reading, and discussions
with patients, families, and
professionals from many areas of
expertise. I have had to reverse
myself enough times since I began
investigating lightning injuries in
1977 to ever claim that I know all
there is to know about it and will be
the first to encourage research into
any of these questions. It seems that
everyone has a lightning story. I
hope you will have fun reading this
and investigating these areas for
yourself. Lightning and electrical
injuries are fascinating and the myths
that have grown up about them are
myriad. I invite you to collect your
own. If you will be kind enough to
send them to me, I will forever be in
your debt.

CLASSIFICATION OF
MYTHS

Beliefs have grown up about these


injuries that I will arbitrarily divide
into the following groups:

1. Occurrence and
demographics
2. Effects of the strike/types
of injuries
a. Positive effects
b. Negative effects
3. Significance of the strike
4. Prevention/ avoidance

OCCURRENCE AND
DEMOGRAPHICS

"I will probably never treat a


victim of a lightning injury in my
practice because they are so rare.
"

False. It is true that injuries from


electrical injuries are probably more
common than lightning injuries,
especially when low-voltage injuries
are included. Best estimates place
lightning injuries at somewhere
between several hundred and a few
thousand per yearn 4 It is common
for the victims to avoid medical care
initially, hoping that the symptoms
will subside in a few hours or days.
Most are not admitted to the hospital
and thus do not become part of any
state hospital admission databank.
Lopez and Holle have done some of
the best studies on the epidemiology
of lightning injuries and I refer you
to their articles in these issues and
elsewhere. (5,6) It would be unusual
to meet a neurologist who has not
had at least one patient with
complaints referable to an electrical
event. Much research remains to be
done into the best treatment, the
differences between these groups,
and long-term effects.

This picture illustrates the lightning


distribution worldwide.

Global frequency and distribution of


lightning as observed from space by the
Optical Transient Detector

"I will probably never treat a


victim of a lightning injury in my
practice because no one lives to
talk about it."

False. In 1980, I published a study


of collected literature and found only
a 30% mortality.(7) Andrews (8)
repeated the study a few years later
and calculated it slightly differently
at 20%. Both reviews would
overestimate the mortality, as case
reports will always be biased toward
the more severe or interesting cases.
Although Holle and Lopez report
figures somewhat differently, my
best guess on the mortality from
lightning would be about 3 to 10% of
all incidents. Projecting from
numbers of between 75 and 150
reported deaths per year (and many
do not get coded appropriately),
there may be as many as 750 to 5000
injuries per year.

"Nowadays most lightning


injuries occur on the golf course. "

False. Indeed, a large number are


work-related. These include injuries
to postal and construction workers
and persons using telephones that
have not been properly grounded. (5)
The numbers of farmers injured has
decreased farmers to work larger
fields in better-protected vehicles.
Injuries during recreation have
increased. They occur to joggers,
hikers, and campers, as well as
golfers. In addition, a significant
number of people are injured while
participating in team sports.

"Some people can attract


lightning."

Some have called themselves


"human lightning rods," claiming
that thunderstorms would change
course to find them or that they had
been struck multiple times. Given
my experience with lightning
victims, I must say that, although
some may suffer little injury from a
single strike, the majority have some
type of sequela. When one claims to
have been hit 20 or more times, the
odds of being able to talk about it
decrease logarithmically. Would any
reasonable person not have enough
sense to learn to avoid lightning after
the first couple of hits?

EFFECTS OF
LIGHTNING
STRIKE/ELECTRIC SHOCK

These effects are what these two


issues of Seminars in Neurology are
all about: we have tried to address
most of the questions that arise about
electrical and lightning injuries, and
the differences between lightning
and electrical injuries and their
treatment have been discussed in
other articles.

Because so little has been studied


in these injuries, it is often difficult
to sort out the complaints that are
real from those that are
metaphysical, compensation-related,
or due to normal aging. As discussed
in the article by Engelstatter and
Primeau, (9) a marginally
compensated individual may see the
injury as the precipitant for all
subsequent problems in life.
Although the physical and cognitive
complaints are sometimes vague and
often do not show on standardized
testing, nevertheless, they present a
consistent complex that is difficult to
disbelieve after listening to them for
15 years from people who have
nothing to gain from their disability.
Even the complaints that we can
objectify often have no good
treatment, frustrating both the patient
and the physician.

Among the claims of positive


effects of lightning strike (and
sometimes electrical injury) are the
cures for persons who have been
blind, deaf, or had serious illnesses.
A few years ago there was a very
well-publicized case of an elderly
gentleman who was cured of his
blindness and deafness by a lightning
strike. Those of us who were
consulted on this knew that these
were hysterical complaints suffered
as a result of a truck accident many
years before but forbade the press to
quote us out of respect for the
gentleman.

I have had one call from another


gentleman who asked if lightning
could cause "hyper sexuality"
because after his lightning injury he
could not seem to get enough sex.
While there is a neurological injury
that can cause hyper sexuality, more
commonly lightning and electrical
injury causes impotence, as a result
of either direct nerve or spinal cord
injury or depression. There is one
published claim of improved
intelligence on psychological testing
after a prolonged cardiac arrest in a
pediatric patient. A woman in
southern Illinois became psychic
after suffering a lightning strike
while asleep in bed. Reportedly, her
powers have been used by police
agencies in locating missing persons
and solving cases.
If remissions or cures of serious
illness have occurred, as some have
claimed, praise God, and I am happy
for them and will not dispute their
conclusions, but I cannot explain it
by any medical literature, only
supposition.

The medical literature and medical


practice are resplendent with
examples of myths that grow out of
misread, misquoted, or
misinterpreted information and that
then continue to be propagated
without further investigation,
particularly when the author is an
individual well-respected for other
accomplishments. Not the least of
these is the tenet that lightning
victims who have resuscitation
prolonged for several hours may still
successfully recover. This belief
seems to be grounded in the old idea
of "suspended animation" the
concept that lightning is capable of
shutting off systemic and cerebral
metabolism, allowing rescuers a
longer period in which to resuscitate
the patient. This concept, credited to
the only article that Taussig ever
wrote on lightning, actually first
appeared in an article that was
published quite some time before
hers. The case recounted by Taussig
that is the basis for this myth, when
searched to its source, was a case
reported by Morikawa and Steichen,
F. While it does show a somewhat
longer resuscitation period than
usual, it is not as miraculous as
reported in her paper or as
propagated in subsequent references
to it.

On the other hand, in a study of


lightning survivors, Andrews has
shown increasing prolongation of the
QT interval, bringing up the
theoretical possibility of toursades as
a mechanism for the suspended
animation reports.' Theoretically, if
lightning hit at the right instant of the
QRS interval, a toursades type of
rhythm might occur, not only
supplying minimal cerebral
perfusion, but also perhaps resolving
spontaneously. Toursade certainly
has a better prognosis than
fibrillation or asystole. There is
new evidence from animal
experiments to support the teaching
that respiratory arrest may persist
longer than cardiac arrest. (13,14)
This study, in which Australian
sheep were hit with simulated
lightning strokes, showed histologic
evidence of greater damage to the
respiratory centers than the cardiac
center in the medulla. Prolonged
assisted ventilation may then, in
some cases, be successful after
cardiac activity has returned.

Among the myths about negative


effects is the "crispy critter" myth.
(3) This is the belief that the victim
struck by lightning bursts into flames
or is reduced to a pile of ashes. In
reality, lightning often flashes over
the outside of a victim, sometimes
blowing off the clothes but leaving
few external signs of injury and few,
if any, burns.

Two other myths held by the lay


public as well as many physicians
that are particularly harmful to the
lightning survivors are, "If you're not
killed fly lightning you A be OK"
and, "If there are no outward signs of
lightning injury, the injury can't be
serious.(8) The medical literature,
by lack of follow-up case reports,
implies that there are also few
permanent sequelae of lightning
injury. However, in the last few
years, it has become apparent that
permanent sequelae may and often
do occur. In addition, both lightning
and electrical victims with
significant sequelae may have no
evidence of burns. While the effects
of amperage and voltage have been
studied in animals, the effect of
frequency, radio waves, and body
impedance, as well as other effects,
have not been elucidated well
enough for us to be able to explain
many injuries.

A myth that is still prevalent today


is that the victim of lightning retains
the charge and is dangerous to touch,
since he is still "electrified " This
idea has led to unnecessary deaths
because of delaying resuscitation
efforts.

Many patients, particularly those


without external signs of injury, have
been told, most often by medical
professionals, that they have
"internal burns" that are the cause of
their problems. This is both a
misnomer and an oversimplification
for the cellular, vascular,
biochemical, or other types of
damage they may have incurred. So
many questions need to be
investigated in lightning and
electrical injuries.

SIGNIFICANCE

"Lightning is a sign from God. "


I can claim no inside track on this
one. Ancient Romans saw Jove's
thunderbolts as a sign of
condemnation and denied burial rites
to those killed by lightning. Andeans
hold similar beliefs and may
ostracize the victim. In some
cultures, medicines are made from
stones that are believed to be a result
of lightning strike. Roman, Hindu,
and Mayan cultures all have myths
that mushrooms arise from spots
where lightning has hit the ground.
(5)

In the poly-ethnic United States,


belief in "fate" or "God's will" may
affect how family, friends, or
coworkers relate to the victim or how
the victim feels about himself and his
recovery. Some patients may have
already consulted a healer before
finally seeking the advice of a
physician and in rare instances it
may be difficult to treat a patient
unless the help of a shaman or priest
is employed to address the religious
issues while the physician addresses
the physical ones.

PREVENTION
/AVOIDANCE

Several Roman emperors wore


laurel wreathes and sealskin, which
were believed to be protective. Pliny
taught that a sleeping person was
safe from lightning. Some of the
references at the end of this article
detail even more curiosities and
myths.
"Wearing a rubber raincoat
(substitute sneakers or other forms
of clothing here) will decrease my
chances of being hit." Conversely:
"Wearing cleated shoes increases
my chances of being struck."

False, and probably false. The first


is easy to dispel: if lightning has
burned its way through a mile or
more of air (which is a superb
insulator), it is hardly logical to
believe that a few millimeters of any
insulating material will be protective.
The second is a subject of contention
but I tend to believe that there would
be little effect from whatever is on
the bottom of your feet. Certainly
metal on the bottom of the feet can
heat up and cause secondary burns,
but it is unlikely to "draw" lightning
to the person.

"I am safe in a car because the


rubber tires protect me."

True and False. True because


there have been no documented
lightning deaths that have occurred
in a hard topped metal vehicle with
the windows rolled up. However, the
composite tires have little, if any,
part in this, for the same reasons as
those just discussed with regard to
insulation. The safety has to do with
the fact that electrical current travels
along the outside of a conductor (the
metal body of the car) and dissipates
to the ground through paths that
include the tires and the rainwater.

"Wearing metal in my hair


increases my chances of being hit.
"

Questionable, although opinions


exist both ways. Hairpins (who uses
those anymore?) may be safe; metal
helmets may not. The issue needs
more study (and more publication).
Kitigawa has shown fairly
conclusively with dummies that
metal about the head does not
increase the likelihood of being hit
(unless it projects far above the head,
increasing the person's height).

"Carrying an umbrella
increases my risk of being hit. "

True. Increasing your height by


any amount increases your chances
of being hit by a calculable amount,
although a prospective, population-
based, double-blind, randomized
study has not been done to prove
this, nor has the composition (metal
versus composite or plastic) of the
umbrella or one-iron been studied.
Other dangerous things to avoid:
avoid being the highest object
anywhere, be it a beach, small open
boat, pier, meadow, or ridge. Avoid
being under a lightning rod (except
when inside a substantial habitable
building that is protected) or
standing near a metal fence,
underground pipes, or other metallic
paths that can transmit lightning
energy from a nearby strike. Avoid
swimming, because lightning energy
can be transmitted through the water
to you. Sailboats should be equipped
with adequate lightning protection
systems.

"When outdoors, I should stay


away from trees."

Mostly true. Certainly you should


stay away from the tallest trees,
which are more likely to be hit and
side-flash or splash to you. However,
one would not want to become the
tallest object in an area by standing
in a meadow, either. Making the
shortest, smallest target is probably
the best answer if caught in the open.
If you are in a forested area, it may
be wise to pick an area of dense
growth of saplings or smaller trees,
rather than either a large meadow or
tall trees. If on a ridge, get to a lower
area.

Seeking shelter in a substantial


building when possible is advisable.
The sheds on golf courses, unless
adequately protected by a lightning
mitigation system, are potentially
more dangerous because they offer
height but little protection and
lightning may splash from a hit to
the shelter onto the inhabitants.

"When lightning hits the ground


nearby, it is 'grounded ' and I am
safe. "

Totally and absolutely FALSE.


Despite the fact that we call the earth
a "ground," it is very difficult to
pump electricity into the ground.
Most "earth" is a very good
insulator. When lightning hits the
ground, it spreads out along the
surface and first few inches of the
ground in increasing circles of
energy called "ground current." If it
contacts a fence or a water pipe or
wire entering a house it can be
transmitted for quite a distance and
cause injury to persons near these
paths. People, being bags of
electrolytes, are better transmitters of
electrical current than most ground
is, and many are injured by ground
current effect each year as the
lightning energy surges up one leg
that is closer to the strike and down
the one further away.

"My mother always told me to stay


off the telephone (out of the bath
tub, away from windows, unplug
the appliances, etc.) during a
thunderstorm. "

Good advice, if not always


practical. Again, the ground current
effect of energy transmitted into the
structure along wires or pipes may
find the person a better conduit to
ground.(3,4) Many injuries occur
every year to telephone users inside
the home. One of the biggest new
areas of consumer fraud has to do
with claims of loss of "valuable"
databases on computers damaged by
lightning.(5)

"Lightning only occurs with


thunderstorms."

Most people know to seek shelter


once the storm clouds roll overhead.
Few realize that one of the most
dangerous times for a fatal strike is
before the storm. Lightning may
travel as far as 10 km nearly
horizontally from the thunderhead
and seem to occur "out of the clear
blue sky" or at least when the day is
still mostly sunny. The faster the
storm is traveling and the more
violent it is, the more likely this is to
occur. Another time underestimated
for its potential danger is the end of a
thunderstorm.(2-6)

"If we could just harness


lightning we could use that to
power the world for months. "
Uman eloquently explains the
reason this cannot be done and is
false in his book, All About
Lightning.(2) He makes two points:
it is impractical to intercept a
sufficient number of the lightning
strikes occurring in the world, and
most of the energy in a lightning
strike is converted to thunder, heat,
light, and radio waves. He notes, "If
its total energy were available, a
single lightning flash would run an
ordinary household light bulb for
only a few months."(2)

"Lightning could be used for a


military weapon. "

Again, Uman (2), a professor of


electrical engineering who writes
with wonderful clarity, is my source.
"In view of the awesome destructive
power of modern weaponry, the
military use of lightning . . . would
probably be more as a psychological
than as a destructive weapon."(2)

And last but not least, "Lightning


never strikes the same place
twice."

In reality, the Empire State


Building and the Sears Tower get hit
thousands of times a year, as do
mountain tops and radio-television
antennas. If the circumstances
facilitating the original lightning
strike are still in effect in an area,
then the laws of nature will
encourage lightning strikes to
continue to be more prevalent there.
After all, that is the reason that
lightning protection systems are
required on many public buildings
(including hospitals) by building
codes.

CONCLUSION

Lightning and electrical injuries


are fascinating and the myths that
have grown up about them are
myriad. I invite you to collect your
own. If you will be kind enough to
send them to me, I will forever be in
your debt.

REFERENCES

1. Prinz: Lightning in history. In Golde RH, ed.


Lightning, Vol 1. San Francisco: Academic Press,
pp1-20, 1977.

2. Uman MA. All about lightning. New York:


Dover, pp 1-160, 1986.

3. Cooper MA, Andrews CJ: Lightning injuries.


Auerbach P ed. Wilderness Medicine, Management
of Wilderness and Environmental Emergencies, 3rd
ed. St. Louis: CV Mosby, pp 261-89, 1995.

4. Andrews CJ, Cooper, MA, ten Duis HJ,


Sappideen C. The pathology of electrical and
lightning injuries. In Wecht CJ, ed. Forensic
Sciences, release 19 update. New York: Matthew
Bender & Co., 1995:23A-3-23A-165

5. Lopez RE, Holle RL, Heitkamp TA. Deaths,


injuries, and property damage due to lightning in
Colorado from 1950 to 1991 based on Storm Data.
In National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration Technical Memorandum ERL
NSSL-103

6. Holle RL, Lopez RE, Ortiz R. et al. Cloud-to-


ground lightning related to deaths, injuries and
property damage in central Florida. In Proceedings,
International Conference on Lightning and Static
Electricity, October 6~, Atlantic City, NJ, FAA
Report No. DOT/FAA/CT-92/20,66-1-66-12, 1992.

7. Cooper MA. Lightning injuries: prognostic signs


for death. Ann Emerg Med 9:134-8, 1980.

8. Andrews CJ, Darveniza M, Mackerras D.


Lightning injury a review of clinical aspects,
pathophysiology and treatment. Adv Trauma
4:241-52, 1989.

9. Primeau M, Engelstatter GH, Bares KK


Behavioral consequences of lightning and electrical
injury. Semin Neurol 15:279-85, 1995.

10. Taussig H. "Death" from lightning and the


possibiliq of living again. Ann Intern Med 68:1345-
50, 1968.

11. Morikawa S. Steichen F. Successful


resuscitation after "death" from lightning.
Anesthesia 21:222-3, 1960.

12. Andrews CJ, Colquhoun DM, Darveniza M.


The QT interval in lightning injury with
implications for the 'cessation of metabolism'
hypothesis.J Wilderness Med 4:155-66, 1993.

13. Andrews CJ, Darvenia M: Effects of lightning


on mammalian tissue. Proceedings, 1989
International Conference on Lightning and Stahc
Electricity, Sept 26 28, Bath, England, 4A.4.1-
4A.4.4, 1989.

14. Andrews CJ, Darveniza M. New models of the


electrical insult in lightning strike. Proceedings, 9th
International Conference on Atmospheric Physics,
St. Petersburg, Russia, 1992.

15. Lowy B. Amanita muscaria and the thunderbolt


legend in Guatemala and Mexico. Mycologia
66:188-90, 1974.

16. Ackerman L. Personal communication, Price-


Hollingsworth Company.
Introduction for Lightning:

Lightning is one of the world's most intriguing phenomenons. Lightning can be


beautiful to watch, but it can also be a destructive force of nature. The giant static
shock, called lightning, happens during thunderstorms and can kill or injury
someone if they are struck. There are many precautions that can be taken to cut
down your chances of being hit by lightning and steps to take if someone is
struck.

How Lightning is formed:

Lightning is formed in a procedure involving the separation of particles and the


attraction of opposite particles. Lightning can go from cloud to ground, ground to
cloud or cloud to cloud.
Lightning starts with the formation of a thunder cloud. First warm, moist air
absorbs enough heat to be lighter than other air. The warm air rises and
condenses into large fluffy clouds. The water vapor in the warm air releases
stored heat which makes the cloud rise even higher. The cloud needs continuous
warm air to rise while it is being formed. When the water vapor and ice crystals
become too heavy for the cloud, some upper level precipitation occurs. The new
rain creates downdrafts that pull in cooler dry air and create drag on the updrafts.
Next, the top of the cloud spreads out and becomes an icy cap. As updrafts and
downdrafts work side by side, powerful winds, strong rain, thunder and lightning
are created.

When the thundercloud is building up, its particles separate. The positive
particles go to the top of the cloud, while the negative particles go to the bottom.
Super-cooled water drops, formed during the making of the thundercloud, freeze
and shatter. The shattering causes the particle separation. Updrafts and
downdrafts further separate the particles. The particle separation occurs in the
early stages of the thunderstorm development. Lightning usually occurs in the
mature stage of a storm. Lightning is an interaction between the cloud and the
ground. The large number of negatively charged particles at the bottom of the
cloud, attract a large amount of positively charged particles on the ground. The
positive and negative particles attract, creating lightning.

What is Thunder:

Thunder is created by the flash of lightning. When the bolt of lightning travels
between the cloud and the ground (in cloud to ground lightning), it heats the air to
10 000 °C hotter than the surface of the sun. The heating is so fast that it pushes
the air molecules away and creates a shock wave that travels through the air.
Eventually, the shock wave turns into a sound wave that is known as thunder.

Types of Lightning:

There are many types of lightning and some occur more often than others. Some
types are Ball Lightning, Bead Lightning, Heat Lightning, Ribbon Lightning, Sheet
Lightning, and Fork Lightning.

Ball Lightning is a very rare phenomenon. Ball Lightning is a floating sphere of


light that occurs during thunderstorms. Ball Lightning may move fast or slow and
can be loud or even silent. Ball lightning may disappear slowly or very suddenly,
and is very unpredictable. No photos have ever been taken of ball lightning and
the only evidence that it exists is through eye-witness accounts. Ball lightning is a
mystery to the world at this point in time.

Bead Lightning looks likes a string of beads and that is why it is called Bead
Lightning. Bead Lightning happens when separate illuminated strokes remain
along a recently discharged lightning channel for a short period of time, making it
look like a string of beads.

Heat Lightning is when there are faint flashes of lightning in the distance. Heat
lightning got its name because it often happens on hot summer days when
thunderstorms are very common. Heat lightning is a sign that a storm is coming.

Ribbon Lightning is when it appears that there are two separate return strokes
side by side. Ribbon Lightning is made by the wind blowing the return strokes
sideways and this creates the illusion of a ribbon of lightning.

Sheet Lightning is when lightning inside a cloud makes that cloud “illuminate” and
this causes the cloud to look like a sheet of light.

Forked Lightning is also known as streak, jagged or zigzagged lightning, and is


the visible section of a lightning channel. Almost all lightning is forked lightning
and Forked Lightning is the most common type of lightning.

Safety from Lightning:

There are many things that you should do if you see lightning. Here are some of
them:
1. You should have a plan in case of a lightning strike. Your plan should be
used if you see lightning or hear thunder, even if there is no rain. Part of
this plan should be that you go indoors or inside your car or vehicle. It is
best to be in a building or a vehicle if lightning strikes. Thunder and
lightning often mean that there will be rain on the way.
2. If you are stuck outside, you should avoid water, high ground, open space
and all metal objects. You should not hide under canopies, picnic or rain
shelters or trees because they are often unsafe.
3. If lightning happens to strike the ground near you, crouch down and put
your feet together, then put your hands on your ears. After the strike you
should stay a minimum of 4 metres away from other people, as you may
be electrically charged.
4. If you are inside when the strike occurs, you should avoid water, stay
away from windows, not use the telephone, take off head sets and unplug
appliances in your house.
5. You should not do any outdoor activities for 30 minutes if the lightning
strike was near you.
6. If someone has been hit by lightning, administer first aid, if you are
qualified to do so, and call 911. Do not carry someone who has been hit
by lightning because they may still be electrically charged.
7. A good slogan to remember with lightning is "If you can see it, flee it; if you
can hear it, clear it."1

Facts about Lightning:

Lightning is a giant spark and a strike takes only one millionth of a second.
Lightning can heat the air to 10 000 °C. Lightning is hotter than the surface of the
sun. Eighty percent of lightning occurs inside a single cloud and the other twenty
percent occurs from cloud to ground. If lightning hits the ground it can sometimes
fuse the sand or sand and dirt together and turn them into glass called a
fulgurate. It is not possible to dodge lightning and that might be why it kills more
people than tornados.

The Vikings thought that lightning came from the God of Thunder, Thor. Thor had
a hammer that he threw at Earth called Mjolnir, and it destroyed everything it hit.
The ancient Greeks believed that lightning came from the God Zeus. Zeus threw
spears that were lightning bolts. North American Native tribes thought that
lightning came from the Thunderbird. The Thunderbird shot lightning out of his
eyes, and when his wings flapped it made thunder.
Conclusion for Lightning:

Some ways that we can help prevent injury or death from lightning would be by
making people more aware of the dangers of lightning and how to stay safe.
Many people don't worry about getting struck by lightning because it is such a
common occurrence. Awareness of the dangers and what to do could save many
lives.

If you live in a place with many thunderstorms, you could also put a lightning
conductor in a field or open space. The lightning would use the conductor instead
of other objects because lightning looks for the easiest path to the ground and
the tall conductor would be it. You would have to put up warning signs because
the field might be dangerous and you may need government consent to put up a
conductor.

This Diagram 4B shows what could happen if you put up a conductor (right) and
what would happen without one (left).
Diagram #4B
Picture A shows what the lightning could do without the lightning rod and Picture
B shows what could happen with the lightning rod.