Dramatic Aerial Thunderstorm Photos

Aerial Lightning 2

Aerial Lightning 1

As an official member of the Cloud Appreciation Society, photos like these make me swoon. These shots are from Ecuador Airlines pilot Santiago Borja. The first was captured through a Boeing 767-300 cockpit window at 37,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean. The second was taken last October along the coast of Venezuela.

In the Washington Post, Borja explained the obstacles he met when taking these types of photos. “Storms are tricky because the lightning is so fast, there is no tripod and there is a lot of reflection from inside lights,” he said. Turbulence and near darkness also added complications to the shot.

View more of Borja’s travel and storm photos on Instagram.
via Colossal

Lightning From Above

Space Lightning

This is a photo taken from above a lightning storm over West Africa by André Kuipers during an extended stay aboard the International Space Station. Lightning storms are a common sight for those on the space station. There are many millions of lightning flashes on Earth everyday. Considering that the ISS orbits Earth 16 times a day you can bet the IIS crew gets quite a show.

Venezuela’s Never Ending Lightning Storm

A lightning storm in Venezuela has been raging with incredible consistency since at least 1595. Known as “Relámpago del Catatumbo”, this mysterious storm located on the mouth of the Catatumbo river at Lake Maracaibo sees an estimated 1,176,000 electrical discharges per year. The lightning is a cloud-to-cloud arc that forms for 140 to 160 nights a year, 10 hours a night, and as many as 280 times an hour for centuries.

In fact, the lightning, visible from 400 kilometers away, is so regular that it’s been used as a navigation aid by ships and is known among sailors as the “Maracaibo Beacon.” Interestingly, generally little to no sound accompanies this fantastic light show, as the lightning moves from cloud to cloud—far, far above the ground.

You can see a short video of the phenomena on youtube.

…At The Speed Of Lightning

Lightning Strike
(Image courtesy of University Of Florida Lightning Research Group)

How lightning works is still pretty much a mystery. But this summer, some large steps to understanding it’s movement were made. Until recently, there wasn’t fast enough camera technology to capture an x-ray image of lightning.

A new camera has a resolution sharp enough to reveal a bright ball of x-rays at the head of the bolt, with almost no lingering radiation along the bolt’s trail. The X-ray glow follows a so-called lightning leader – a channel in the air that forms a path for the lightning. The leader’s charged tip creates an electric field that accelerates electrons almost to the speed of light and causes the X-ray emissions.

The lightning leader is also known as a step leader, because it seems to travel by leaps and bounds rather than in a continuous line. The trail left by the step leader allows negative charge to travel down, even as positively charged leaders travel upward from the ground to meet in the middle. That triggers a so-called return stroke moving upward from the ground toward the cloud – the flash of what human eyes see as lightning.

You can find a lot more lightning stuff on Artifacting.

1.21 Gigawatts!

Less than two seconds in real-time, this video of a lightning strike in Rapid City, South Dakota is spectacular. The video is slowed down to 9,000 frames per second. ZT Research describes the video as a preceding downward positive ground flash that triggers upward leaders from seven towers, three of which are visible in the video. I love how hundreds of “mini strikes” flicker around the central strikes. ZT Research has more cool lightning strike videos on their site.

Lightning Striking Twice

Lightning Safety Awareness Week was last month. But to reiterate the dangers of this shocking natural phenomenon, go have a look at this flickr footage of Jessica Lynch getting struck but lightning (or click the “more” link below). She’s a very lucky girl. From Jessica’s comments:

First off, just to reiterate, i’m totally fine! At the end f the video you can see my left hand starting to shake. It threw me back a few feet and then i proceeded to have a breathing problem that sounded like breath hiccups, short and quick, and that lasted for about 3-5 minutes. While that was going on i sat and watched my left arm shake like a jackhammer which seemed to last forever and i could feel the travel path in my arm for the 24 hours following. The air did turn much warmer after the strike. i didn’t notice cooling air before, but i also wasn’t thinking it was about to hit the ground in front of me. I had no idea i even took video of this until at least 20 minutes later. It was a total surprise!

Lightning Safety Awareness Week

June 18th-24th is national lightning safety awareness week.

Each year lightning kills 50 to 100 people in the USA (500 injuries). During an average year in Colorado, lightning will kill 3 and injure 18 people. Men are struck by lightning four times more often than women. Colorado has the 3rd highest lightning casualty rate in the nation. A typical 100-million volt lightning flash can heat the air to more than 40,000°F. The contact voltage of a typical industrial electrical shock is 20 to 63 kilovolts, a lightning strike delivers about 300 kilovolts. The saying “lightning never strikes twice in the same place” is false. The Empire State Building is struck by lightning on average 100 times each year, and was once struck 15 times in 15 minutes.

People are struck by lightning all the time. In fact, here in Colorado, just last week a man was killed by lightning while walking to his parked car at the Mile-Hi Flea Market. Over the last few days, 69 people were killed by lightning in India.

Total Colorado Lightening Casualties.

Even airplanes get struck by lightning.
Airplane getting struck by lightning

Although most lightning mortality is through cardiac and neurologic events, other organ systems can be affected. Further complications may include respiratory distress syndrome, pulmonary edema, renal failure, retinal lesions, and rhabdomyolysis. Most of the current from a lightning strike passes over the surface of the body in a process called “external flashover” and results in deep burns at the point of contact most commonly on the head, neck and shoulders. Sometimes the burns come in the form of Lichtenberg figures (graphic picture but SFW). Lightning can catch your hair on fire. All lightning strike burns are highly prone to infection. Other complications caused from lightning strike include: Contusion or internal hemorrhage of brain, lungs, liver, intestine or other organs, bone fractures and bruises, numbness/weakness in limbs, partial or complete (but temporary) paralysis, tympanic membrane ruptured (typical), transient blindness, photophobia , conjunctivitis, corneal damage, retinal abnormalities (macular hole), and cataracts.

If the physical effects weren’t enough, 70 percent of lightning survivors experience residual effects, most commonly affecting the brain (neuropsychiatric, vision and hearing). These effects can develop slowly, only becoming apparent much later. Survivors complain of intense headaches, ringing in the ears, dizziness, nausea, vomiting and other post-concussion types of symptoms. Survivors also experience difficulty sleeping, often sleeping excessively at first and then only two or three hours at a time. some develop seizure-like activity several weeks to months after the injury. Many lightning victims may suffer personality changes because of frontal lobe damage and become quite irritable and easy to anger. As a result, many isolate themselves, withdrawing from church, friends, family and other activities. Other neurologic disorders include: loss of consciousness or coma, amnesia, anxiety, confusion, aphasia, seizures, electroencephalographic abnormalities, brain damage, neuropathy, memory disorders, concentration disturbances, irritability, lightning storm phobia, and post traumatic stress disorder. The experience can be so dramatic that there is a Lightning Strike Survivors Support Group. The pathology of lightning, or keraunopathy, is known only to a few specialists.

And if all that wasn’t enough lightning will often explode, tear, shred, or burn your clothes right off you – leaving you not only very disoriented, but at least partially naked.

On a happier note, only about 20 percent of lightning victims are immediately struck dead.

Other links of note:

Wearing a bra can get you struck by lightning.

A recent scientific study strengthens the belief that metallic supports in modern bras could attract lightning and strike their wearers dead. An unconfirmed instance of this occurred circa 2000 in Hyde Park, London, when two women hiding under a tree died after being struck by lightning. The forensic report said “lightning discharge was channeled into the metal brassieres, leaving burn marks on the women’s chests.”

Roy Sullivan was struck by lightning seven times. His wife was struck once. He died by suicide.

US lightning strikes during the last two hours
Selected Incidents from the “It Can’t Happen to Me” Library
Over 200 cool lightning photos
Tips on taking photographs of lightning
Stories of lightning strike survivors
Your chance of being struck by lightning: 1 in 280,000
Lightning Kills! posters
Lightning Kills public service announcement

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