Bolt From the Blue

Lightning facts and dangers

By Bob Ryan
|  Thursday, Jun 4, 2009  |  Updated 7:22 PM EDT
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Lightning Death Shocks Virginia Community

Al Moller/NOAA

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The Science Behind Lightning's Power

Some say to truly understand lightning's power, you need to know the science behind it.

Lightning Death Shocks Virginia Community

A community mourns after a lightning strike that killed one boy and critically injured another on a Virginia baseball field.
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Each year about 25 million cloud-to-ground lightning strokes hit the United States. Only a few lightning strikes lead to the fatal incidents such as the young boy killed Wednesday in Spotsylvania.

But not all lightning strokes are the same. Most lightning strokes carry negative charge to the earth. The average current or amperage is 30,000 amps but very dangerous "bolts from the blue" such as those shown in thes photos are often much more powerful lightning strokes.

These "bolts from the blue" often carry positive charge from near the top of thunderstorms into the air and then to the ground, sometimes 5-10 miles away from the storm.  These positive charges can carry 10 times the current and are rare but extremely dangerous.

The number of people killed by lightning each year is decreasing, last year 28 were killed, but 100 percent of the people killed by lightning were outside and almost 60 percent of those killed were either under trees or near the water.

If you are outside and hear thunder, YOU MAY BE IN DANGER.  Seek shelter inside immediately.  Don't take any chances, especially if you are in the open.  Even if a thunderstorm is not very close, a bolt from the blue can be a killer.

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