Weather Whys

By Texas A&M University —

Q: How hot can a lightning bolt be?

A: Hotter than you probably think, says Brent McRoberts of Texas
A&M University. “Scientists have done numerous experiments on this
very subject,” McRoberts explains, “and the air around a lightning bolt
can reach as high as 55,000 degrees Fahrenheit. That's about five times
hotter than the surface of the sun. That's why when the air gets that
hot near a bolt of lightning, it expands faster than the speed of sound,
and the expansion of the air into the cooler surrounding air creates a
sonic shock wave – and that's thunder. And since these waves originate
along the path of a lightning bolt, there are several of these shock
waves one right after another, each at a different altitude. That's why
thunder often seems to rumble.”

Q: How many volts are in a lightning bolt?

A: One bolt
can contain hundreds of millions of volts of electricity, McRoberts
adds. “That's why lightning can be such a killer – it is extremely
powerful. Between 1979 and 2008, an average of 58 U.S. residents were
killed by lightning each year. Worldwide, there are about 2,000
thunderstorms at any given moment,


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