A few weeks ago, we had a conversation about smart phones and the long list of tasks they perform. One of those tasks is at the top of the list for TV stations looking for a way to lock in viewers day and night.
As I learned in my long career in TV news, most any TV consultant will quote the same fact: television viewers have one thing on their mind. It's not crime, sports, state or national news stories. It's the weather. When asked what they watch for most often, viewers consistently say it's the weather — specifically severe weather. That's why TV stations spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to tap into the very latest in weather technology.
In our area, the TV stations that compete for the top spots in local ratings all have weather trucks that boldly go where no one has gone before ... into the eye of the storm ... or somewhere safely nearby. They each have access to state-of- the-art weather technology, including radar, Doppler radar and software that can take that radar signal and slice and dice it so that they can pinpoint the storm's size, intensity, location and path.
The viewers' interest in keeping their families safe when bad weather kicks up is why stations use prime commercial time to promote their commitment to tracking severe weather. They know it pays dividends in the form of viewer loyalty.
One of the weather gadgets available on smart phones that caught my eye and ear is the lightning locator. It tracks your location and tells you when lightning is near. I hear the anonymous voice informing me that lightning has been recorded in my area. It even displays how far away the lightning strike is from where you are at the moment. Pretty snazzy, huh?
So what do we know about lightning? I remember years ago talking to then-WSFA Chief Meteorologist Rich Thomas about seeing "heat lightning" on the horizon. He very politely informed me that lightning is lightning and there was no such thing as heat lightning. "But Rich," I protested ..."that's what we called it when I was a kid. It could be seen on the horizon at dusk on hot summer afternoons."
He kindly told me — again — that "lightning is lightning."
"Well, what about ball lightning?" I asked. He told me he didn't have enough time to explain the various theories about ball lightning ... but we could talk about it later.
Let's move on to more facts about lightning from the National Weather Service.
As of this writing, 12 people have died in lightning strikes nationwide in 2019, including one in Alabama. He was a 59-year-old man who was on a ladder working on his mother's roof. Seventy-five percent of the 12 victims this year were male. And, remarkably, half of the fatal strikes occurred on Sunday.
In other data gathered from various sources, the odds of you being struck by lightning in any given year are approximately 1 in 700,000. The odds of being hit in your lifetime is down to about 1 in 3,000.
Our beautiful blue planet is struck by lightning bolts an estimated 100 times per second. That means in the three minutes or so that it will take for you to finish this week's conversation, our planet will have been hit about 18,000 times!
Talk about packing a punch. A flash of lightning can be five miles long, raise the temperature of the air surrounding it to 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit. And get this ... one bolt can contain 100 million volts of electrical power. That's nothing short of amazing.
Ever wonder where thunder comes from? The rapid expansion of heated air around the lightning causes the often ear-shattering sound of thunder. Because light travels faster than sound, the flash of lightning arrives at your location before the sound of thunder. So if you see the lightning and hear the thunder at almost the same time, the lightning is nearby and you should get inside — pronto.
But don't think that lightning has to be close to your location to strike you. As a matter of fact, you can be struck by lightning from a storm that's 10 miles away!
There may be blue skies overhead but you're still in danger.
So remember, while the earth is a massive target for lightning bolts, it only takes one to be fatal if you're in the wrong place at the wrong time. Take advantage of the lightning warnings, no matter where you get them, and don't fail to take them seriously.