Please Explain: Thunder and Lightning

Friday, August 12, 2011

Thunderstorms are one of the most dramatic features of summer, so this week’s Please Explain is all about thunder and lightning storms. Walt Zaleski, Warning Coordination Meteorologist Program Manager, National Weather Service, Southern Region Headquarters, tells us what causes these storms, how they’re tracked and studied, and how the weather works.


Walt Zaleski

Comments [30]

Abeer from Saudi Arabia

My student has a cochlear implant (metal parts) in his head. He will be hiking in storm prone mtn range. Is he at risk?

Sep. 04 2013 02:26 PM
Jerry Jones

As a child I was on a sun porch on the
roof of our home and lighting struck the roof tins . . .I was wearing shoes with a rubber soles as a result the shoes were melted and I guess that is what saved my life

Aug. 13 2011 01:47 AM
Rob from New Brunswick, NJ

What causes thundersnow?

Aug. 12 2011 02:00 PM
Peter Kassan from Westchester, NY

Heart disease causes over five hundred thousand deaths a year. To be concerned about being killed by something that causes less than one tenth of one-tenth of one percent of that is evidence that people are poor at assessing risk.

Aug. 12 2011 01:59 PM

At most indoor pools, swimmers are not vacated when there's thunder. Indoor pools at NYS parks operate under a policy of vacating the pools at the first sound of thunder. The reason officials give for this is that they don't want to put the swimmers at risk. I can't find any instance of a swimmer in an indoor pool being struck by lightening. Their reasoning seems like superstition, not based on any empirical evidence. They are setting policy on speculation of an event with an exceptionally remote probability of occuring. (In fact, the people leave the building after being thrown out of the pool, which would increase the chances of being struck. Of course, anyone driving to/from the pool would have a much greater chance of being killed in a car accident en route on any given day.) What do you think?

Aug. 12 2011 01:56 PM

Should computers be unplugged during a thunderstorm?


Aug. 12 2011 01:55 PM
Aaron from Brooklyn

I noticed for the first time this past winter, lighting in a blizzard. Is this becoming more common and why?

Aug. 12 2011 01:55 PM
A listener

Does lightning pose a danger to boats at sea?

Aug. 12 2011 01:54 PM
Aaron from Brooklyn

I noticed for the first time this past winter, lighting in a blizzard. Is this becoming more common and why?

Aug. 12 2011 01:54 PM
Josh from Ft. Greene, Brooklyn

Can you ask the guest about "thunder snow", or the combination of a thunderstorm and a snow storm?

Aug. 12 2011 01:53 PM
Jake from Nassau

This guest is pretty ignorant, Leonard asks him about voltage, and the guest starts blathering about "amperage". Above thousands of voltas, it doesn't take much current to kill you. Also postively or negatively "charged" lightning is misleading; Either end may emanate from a charge, but the lightning bolt itself is the flow of electricity between the crged end-points.

Aug. 12 2011 01:53 PM
Sophie from Poughkeepsie, NY

@ Liz from Manhattan

It sounds familiar to me. Are we dating ourselves?

Aug. 12 2011 01:51 PM
Jared from NYC

Years ago, I was jumping off a wooden fence under tress and a utility pole in a storm. There was a 'zizt!' sound and a glowing orb above me near the electrical wires. While I was in the air lightening cracked, blowing out windows for a couple of miles around. I ran the fastest I ever ran to shelter. I think I was almost hit by lightning, but I'm not sure.

Aug. 12 2011 01:48 PM
Liz from Manhattan

To the caller asking about the smell, I remember from biology class that one of the smells is ozone. Does that sound familiar to anyone else?

Aug. 12 2011 01:48 PM
Sophie from Poughkeepsie, NY

I always thought that smell was ozone.

Aug. 12 2011 01:47 PM
Jay from Chicago

Old newspaper accts of lightning strikes tell about an "photographic" image, say, of a tree or whatever was near the point of lightning flash/contact, which gets "burned" onto the skin of a nearby person. Explain?

Aug. 12 2011 01:45 PM
Fred from Queens

Is water necessary for lightning, because water is a polarized molecule?

Aug. 12 2011 01:45 PM
Amy from Manhattan

I thought the reason not to stand under a tree during a lightning storm was that trees don't conduct electricity well, so the lightning tends to jump to the nearest thing that conducts it better--our bodies.

Aug. 12 2011 01:44 PM
joan from Garrison NY

My son has a cochlear implant (metal parts) in his head. He will be hiking in storm prone mtn range. Is he at special risk?

Aug. 12 2011 01:42 PM
Caren Loebel-Fried from nj

goofy question from childhood:
can you prevent being struck by lightening if you wear sneakers? I used to wear them to bed during lightning storms...

Aug. 12 2011 01:42 PM
Patrick from Newark

Len' -

20 years ago a golfer in Vail, Colorado was struck and killed while under a blue sky without a cloud. It was determined that the bolt came from a storm on the other side of a mountain that could not be seen.

Aug. 12 2011 01:41 PM
Janice from Westfield, NJ

I grew up near the Delaware River. My father would sometimes observe that a thunderstorm was "going up the river." Do thunderstorms occasionally follow the path of a river or was this just a random occurrence?

Aug. 12 2011 01:40 PM
Graciela Kuperschmit

Why the weather is so similar in NYC and Buenos Aires, at the same time. I'm in BsAs now, and except the difference in season, the weather is the same.Lightning and thunder too!!!

Aug. 12 2011 01:39 PM
Robert from Bay Ridge NY

what is the energy released by one lightning and is there a way to harness it?

Aug. 12 2011 01:38 PM
Elisa from White Plains

What is ground lightning and is it more dangerous?

Aug. 12 2011 01:38 PM
Gabriella Rahoy from New York

I would like to know whether the lightning could endanger me since I just had Bilateral total knee replacement with nickel)

Aug. 12 2011 01:37 PM
Ken from Soho

When explaining barometric pressure, the guest used the term "cubic square foot". This is meaningless; it's either cubic foot, or square foot.

Aug. 12 2011 01:36 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Thunder follows lightning as we perceive it from whatever distance, but are they simultaneous at the point of origin?

Aug. 12 2011 01:32 PM
Emily from Morris Plains, NJ

Is heat lightening a real thing? Or do we just tell kids that so that they don't get scared?

Aug. 12 2011 01:29 PM

Check your program summary: "Plus, Please Explain is all about lightening and thunder!"

Correct spelling does make a good impression.

Aug. 12 2011 11:50 AM

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