059: I am grateful for lightning

This evening there was a huge lightning storm over Vancouver. The flashes lit up the sky and the thunder rolled (I love the sound too). Lightning and subsequent thunder reminds me of standing out in the backyard as a boy with Dad watching the sky light up and his describing the different kinds of lighting and explaining the speed of sound by using the age old flash count to thunder technique. I can even remember the smell of ozone in the air after a few particularly close strikes.

A poet is someone who stands outside in the rain hoping to be struck by lightning. ~ James Dickey

I am also reminded of my first flight back to Nova Scotia, three years after I came to British Columbia, every time I see lightning. It was summer and there were lightning storms from Manitoba through to Toronto. From my window seat I had a perfect view of the storm, miles away, from above the clouds. It is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in nature. You don’t get that perspective every day. I watched for at least an hour non-stop. It was better than the movie, A River Runs Through It.

A few people, like forest fire fighters, may not share my love of lightning so much. I know it can be destructive. I remember a church steeple stricken by lightning outside of my home town in Nova Scotia was scorched pretty good. The congregation did not have the money to fix it right away and it stood as a reminder of the power of a lightning bolt.

I am in awe of lightning ever time I see it.

What is lightning?

Lightning is “an atmospheric discharge of electricity accompanied by thunder, which typically occurs during thunderstorms, and sometimes during volcanic eruptions or dust storms. In the atmospheric electrical discharge, a leader of a bolt of lightning can travel at speeds of 60,000 m/s (130,000 mph), and can reach temperatures approaching 30,000 °C (54,000 °F), hot enough to fuse silica sand into glass channels known as fulgurites which are normally hollow and can extend some distance into the ground. There are some 16 million lightning storms in the world every year.” [source]

Like many youngsters in the 80’s, I learned, erroneously, from Back to the Future that the electrical power in one lightning bolt is 1.21 Gigawatts. They made it up. You mean a movie lied? Sadly, yes…

The average peak power output of a single lightning stroke is about a terawatt (1012 W) and the stroke lasts for around 30 microseconds. [source]

Doesn’t quite roll off the tongue like 1.21 gigawatts. Does it McFly?

Here’s an amazing time lapse video of a lightning storm in Toronto as shot by photographer Sam Javanrouh:

Toronto Lightning Storm from Sam Javanrouh on Vimeo.

347 frame shot on Canon 5D Mark II and Sigma 12-24. 
15 seconds exposures at f8, at 17 seconds intervals.

UPDATE: Sound was captured separately at the time of shooting this, on a ZOOM H4n.

Wow! What a neat planet we live on. Thank you lightning!

Today's photo by Greg Foster on Flickr