Lightning and Thunder

Capt. Samantha Zeher- Island Jane Magazine

The summer months are upon us and the weather is proving to be a hot one this year. The peak of hurricane season is typically during August and September. Some years bring horrible storms while other years we get lucky with a few less powerful storms. One thing that stays true every year is the pop up thunder storms that anyone can encounter while visiting the Florida Keys during the summer months.

We have a lot of moisture in the air down here causing the storms to form and dissipate rapidly, and some of these storms can be more than just a light rain shower. Some of the storms are fierce, full of lightening and thunder. Have you ever wondered what causes the thunder and lightning to occur?

The storms form when you have moisture mixed with unstable air and a sea breeze. The moisture and the unstable air mix and the sea breeze causes the mixture to rise. As it is rising, the temperatures change and the storm moves to cooler air, causing the rain drops to freeze. When the rain drops are frozen the are moving around like molecules. When the frozen raindrops hit each other in the sky, they cause friction and it forms an electrical charge. After a while the whole cloud is full of these charges.

The electric charges are made up of both positive and negative charges. Positive charges stay near the top of the cloud while negative charges are more towards the bottom of the cloud. The ground produces a positive charge and the charges build up towards the highest points in the ground such as mountains and tall trees. The positive charge from the ground is attracted to the negative charge at the bottom of the cloud, and the positive charge at the top of the cloud is attracted to the negative charged at the bottom of the cloud. Once there is enough attraction from both sides the currents will eventually connect and create a lightning strike.

When lightning strikes, the electrical current opens a passageway in the clouds, kind of like a hole in the clouds. When the strike is finished the hole closes up and makes the sound of thunder. The reason we see the lightning before we hear the thunder is because light travels faster than sound. If you see a storm and hear thunder but don’t see lightning, don’t just assume there isn’t any. Where there is thunder there is lightning and lightning can strike up to 10 miles distance from the storm.

When you’re on the water you can see storms for miles. Sometimes you can even hear the thunder before you see the lightning since noise travels faster on the water. So if you hear thunder or see lightning while boating, it is probably best to go ashore and find shelter to avoid getting struck. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!

Owner of a sightseeing eco-tour business out of Islamorada. Samantha grew up playing on the waters off of Lower Matecumbe. She learned to fish and snorkel at a young age. She loves being on the water and enjoys educating people about the importance of the marine environment.

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