Flash Facts About Lightning

Did you know that rubber shoes do nothing to protect you from lightning? That talking on the telephone is the leading cause of lightning injuries inside the home? That standing under a tall tree is one of the most dangerous places to take shelter?

And what does it mean if your hair starts to stand on end during a thunderstorm?

Scroll down for the answers to these and other questions—and for tips and procedures to protect yourself and your property against one of nature’s most lethal phenomena.

• Lightning is a giant discharge of electricity accompanied by a brilliant flash of light and a loud crack of thunder. The spark can reach over five miles (eight kilometers) in length, raise the temperature of the air by as much as 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit (27,700 degrees Celsius), and contain a hundred million electrical volts.

• Some scientists think that lightning may have played a part in the evolution of living organisms. The immense heat and other energy given off during a stroke has been found to convert elements into compounds that are found in organisms.

• Lightning detection systems in the United States monitor an average of 25 million strokes of lightning from clouds to ground during some 100,000 thunderstorms every year. It is estimated that Earth as a whole is struck by an average of more than a hundred lightning bolts every second.

The odds of becoming a lightning victim in the U.S. in any one year is 1 in 700,000. The odds of being struck in your lifetime is 1 in 3,000.

Lightning can kill people (3,696 deaths were recorded in the U.S. between 1959 and 2003) or cause cardiac arrest. Injuries range from severe burns and permanent brain damage to memory loss and personality change. About 10 percent of lightning-stroke victims are killed, and 70 percent suffer serious long-term effects. About 400 people survive lightning strokes in the U.S. each year.

• Lightning is not confined to thunderstorms. It’s been seen in volcanic eruptions, extremely intense forest fires, surface nuclear detonations, heavy snowstorms, and in large hurricanes.

• Ice in a cloud may be key in the development of lightning. Ice particles collide as they swirl around in a storm, causing a separation of electrical charges. Positively charged ice crystals rise to the top of the thunderstorm, and negatively charged ice particles and hailstones drop to the lower parts of the storm. Enormous charge differences develop.

• The negatively charged bottom part of the storm sends out an invisible charge toward the ground. When the charge gets close to the ground, it is attracted by all the positively charged objects, and a channel develops. The subsequent electrical transfer in the channel is lightning.

If your hair stands up in a storm, it could be a bad sign that positive charges are rising through you, reaching toward the negatively charged part of the storm. That’s not a good sign! Your best bet is to get yourself immediately indoors.

• The rapid expansion of heated air causes the thunder. Since light travels faster than sound, the thunder is heard after the lightning. If you see lightning and hear thunder at the same time, that lightning is in your neighborhood. If you see successive strokes of lightning in the same place on the horizon then you are in line with the storm, and it may be moving toward you.

• Not all lightning forms in the negatively charged area low in the thunderstorm cloud. Some lightning originates in the top of the thunderstorm, the area carrying a large positive charge. Lightning from this area is called positive lightning.

Positive lightning is particularly dangerous, because it frequently strikes away from the rain core, either ahead or behind the thunderstorm. It can strike as far as 5 or 10 miles (8 or 16 kilometers) from the storm, in areas that most people do not consider to be a lightning-risk area.

• During a thunderstorm, each flash of cloud-to-ground lightning is a potential killer. The determining factor on whether a particular flash could be deadly depends on whether a person is in the path of the lightning discharge.

In addition to the visible flash that travels through the air, the current associated with the lightning discharge travels along the ground. Although some victims are struck directly by the main lightning stroke, many victims are struck as the current moves in and along the ground.

If you can hear thunder, you are within 10 miles (16 kilometers) of a storm—and can be struck by lightning. Seek shelter and avoid situations in which you may be vulnerable.

Use the 30-30 rule, when visibility is good and there is nothing obstructing your view of the thunderstorm. When you see lightning, count the time until you hear thunder. If that time is 30 seconds or less, the thunderstorm is within six miles (ten kilometers) of you and is dangerous. Seek shelter immediately.

The threat of lightning continues for a much longer period than most people realize. Wait at least 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder before leaving shelter. Don’t be fooled by sunshine or blue sky!

• Most lightning deaths and injuries in the United States occur during the summer months, when the combination of lightning and outdoor activities reaches a peak. People involved in activities such as boating, swimming, fishing, bicycling, golfing, jogging, walking, hiking, camping, or working outdoors all need to take the appropriate actions in a timely manner when thunderstorms approach.

• The Fourth of July is historically one of the most deadly times of the year for lightning in the U.S.. In summer, especially on a holiday, more people are outside, on the beach, golf course, mountains, or ball fields. Outdoor jobs such as construction and agriculture, and outdoor chores such as lawn mowing or house painting are at their peak, putting people involved in danger.

Where organized sports activities take place, coaches, umpires, referees, or camp counselors must protect the safety of the participants by stopping the activities sooner, so that the participants and spectators can get to a safe place before the lightning threat becomes significant.

• People on or in or near water are among those most at risk during thunderstorms. Swimming is particularly dangerous, as not only do swimmers protrude from the water, presenting a potential channel for electrical discharge, but also because water is a good conductor of electricity.

• Inside homes, people must also avoid activities which put their lives at risk from a possible lightning strike. As with the outdoor activities, these activities should be avoided before, during, and after storms.

In particular, people should stay away from windows and doors and avoid contact with anything that conducts electricity, including landline telephones. Most people hurt by lightning while inside their homes are talking on the telephone at the time.

• People may also want to take certain actions well before the storm to protect property within their homes, such as electronic equipment. Surge protectors do not protect against direct lightning strikes. Unplug equipment such as computers and televisions.

• If a person is struck by lightning, medical care may be needed immediately to save the person’s life. Cardiac arrest and irregularities, burns, and nerve damage are common in cases where people are struck by lightning. However, with proper treatment, including CPR if necessary, most victims survive a lightning strike, although the long-term effects on their lives and the lives of family members can be devastating.

• A house or other substantial building offers the best protection from lightning. For a shelter to provide protection from lightning, it must contain a mechanism for conducting the electrical current from the point of contact to the ground. These mechanisms may be on the outside of the structure, may be contained within the walls of the structure, or may be a combination of the two.

On the outside, lightning can travel along the outer shell of the building or may follow metal gutters and downspouts to the ground. Inside a structure, lightning can follow conductors such as the electrical wiring, plumbing, and telephone lines to the ground.

• Unless specifically designed to be lightning safe, small structures do little, if anything, to protect occupants from lightning. Many small open shelters on athletic fields, on golf courses, in parks, at roadside picnic areas, in school yards, and elsewhere are designed to protect people from rain and sun, but not lightning.

A shelter that does not contain plumbing or wiring throughout or some other mechanism for grounding from the roof to ground is not safe. Small wooden, vinyl, or metal sheds offer little or no protection from lightning and should be avoided during thunderstorms.

• There are three main ways lightning enters homes and buildings: a direct strike, through wires or pipes that extend outside the structure and into the ground. Regardless of the method of entrance, once in a structure, the lightning can travel through the electrical, phone, plumbing, and radio or television reception systems. Lightning can also travel through any metal wires or bars in concrete walls or flooring.

Phone use is the leading cause of indoor lightning injuries in the United States. Lightning can travel long distances in both phone and electrical wires, particularly in rural areas.

Do not lie on the concrete floor of a garage as it likely contains a wire mesh. In general, basements are a safe place to go during thunderstorms. However, avoid contact with concrete walls, which may contain metal reinforcing bars.

Avoid washers and dryers, since they not only have contacts with the plumbing and electrical systems but also contain an electrical path to the outside through the dryer vent.

Avoid contact with electrical equipment or cords. If you plan to unplug any electronic equipment, do so well before the storm arrives.

Avoid contact with plumbing. Do not wash your hands, do not take a shower, do not wash dishes, and do not do laundry.

Victims of lightning do not retain the charge and are not “electrified.” It is safe to help them.

Rubber shoes will not give you any meaningful protection from lightning.

Lightning can—and often does—strike in the same place twice. Tall buildings and monuments are frequently hit by lightning.

• A motor car with a metal top can offer you some protection—but keep your hands from the metal sides.

An umbrella can increase your chances of being struck by lightning if it makes you the tallest object in the area.

Always avoid being the highest object anywhere—or taking shelter near or under the highest object, including tall trees. Avoid being near a lightning rod or standing near metal objects such as a fence or underground pipes.

Credit: NOAA/National Geographic

(Image credit: U.S. Navy)

Look at that picture and consider the question.

Why are there mountains at that part of the ocean but not in most of the others?

Hot spot? Oceanic ridge?

The answer is because that’s the only spot where a ship’s been.

72% of the Earth’s surface is below the ocean. Most of the Southern Hemisphere hasn’t been explored however and according to geophysicist Robert Ballard, “There are only ever four or five people on the ocean floor at any one time.”

People played golf on the Moon before anyone entered the single largest feature on our own planet, the Mid-Ocean Ridge which covers almost a quarter of the planet.

It’s remarkable that there are people conceiving of ways to colonize other moons and planets and yet where are all the ocean colonies?

Most of the planet doesn’t get touched by Sunlight. At the deepest parts of the oceans, sunlight cannot penetrate and yet life thrives there, living off of chemosynthesis and the heat from the Earth’s core. These same conditions could enable life on Europa and Enceladus.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is America’s other exploration program (NASA’s sibling). One year of NASA’s funding (which is not a lot) could fund our entire oceanic exploration program… for 1,600 years.

Earth is a planet in space. It would do us well to remember this. There’s still so much to learn from our mother planet, why spurn these valuable lessons?

Good news! NOAA Fisheries just gave scalloped hammerhead sharks protection under the Endangered Species Act!  Sharks worldwide are in danger because of “finning” for shark fin soup, and accidental bycatch. We’re glad to have played a lead role in passage of the shark fin ban in California, a movement that’s spreading to many other states – and even to China!

Learn more

Watch them live on exhibit


Sen. James Inhofe’s infamous climate-denying stunt, in which he held up a snowball on the senate floor as “proof” that global warming is a hoax, wasn’t just, as President Obama described it, disturbing. It was also extremely narrow-minded, as new data out from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows. Looking beyond D.C., it turns out, Earth as a whole just lived through its warmest year since record-keeping began in 1880. Sure enough, the world is on fire, with the eastern U.S. as almost the only exception.

Senator Inhofe and company should try looking beyond D.C.


In a typical month, the planet is shaken by an average of one or two medium-to-large earthquakes. This past month was not typical. Things were running on track up until the end of March, and then the ground went totally bonkers.

There was an incredible 13 quakes of magnitudes 6.5 or higher in April. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, which issued bulletins for each one, says that is “easily a record for this institution.” Five of these temblors were powerful enough that the center also put out tsunami warnings. They include the massive quakes in northern Chile at the beginning of the month, as well as three more that shook the Solomon Islands in the following weeks.

The unusual spike in seismic activity is shown in this animation, which displays the locations and depths of quakes for the first four months of 2014.

-April Had a Record Number of Big Earthquakes


Green or Arid

  1. These are rather unusual; crafted from a year’s worth of data collected by the Suomi NPP satellite, this digitally-constructed image show the difference between green and arid areas of Earth. Photograph: NASA/NOAA/Rex Features
  2. Here, urbanised areas of northern Egypt are visible amidst the deserts. The image also shows the Nile River which provides life-sustaining water to the region. Photograph: NASA/NOAA/Rex Features

Study Documents Crude Oil’s Toxic Impact on Tuna Hearts

Scientists from Stanford University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have discovered that crude oil interferes with tuna heart cells in ways that can lead to cardiac arrest and sudden cardiac death.

The study, published February 14 in Science, looks at some of the impacts of the massive Deepwater Horizon crude oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

The specific mechanism behind the cardiotoxic effects of crude oil were documented for the first time in work by the Stanford team at the Tuna Research and Conservation Center, a 10-year collaboration between Stanford and the Aquarium.

Because heart function in tunas is similar to that in humans, marine mammals and other vertebrates, the Stanford team is recommending further study to determine if human hearts are at risk when they’re exposed to the same hydrocarbon compounds in polluted air. 

The Aquarium, Stanford and NOAA funded the research project.

Learn more about the work of the Tuna Research and Conservation Center.

via Orca Network: January 24 NOAA Fisheries proposed a rule to grant Lolita equal status with her family as a member of an endangered species, pending a 2-month comment period before it is made final.

Now our challenge is to persuade NOAA Fisheries to overcome the beliefs promulgated to serve their own interests by the combined forces of the entire captive orca industry over the past four decades that captive orcas can never be returned to their native waters because it could kill them or could harm their wild conspecifics (family).

So we are asking all supporters of our proposal for Lolita’s retirement to submit comments to NOAA Fisheries along these lines:

The comment period - to help persuade NOAA Fisheries to not only follow through and grant Lolita’s inclusion as a member of her family, but to allow her to return to her home - began January 27. You can make your comments at http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2013-0056-1841.

Even if/when she is finally determined to be a member of her family under the ESA, if NOAA Fisheries believes her health or her family’s health could be harmed by her return to her native waters they don’t have to allow her to be retired. We have drafted some basic points to make here to clarify those issues:

3 essential points to make:

1. There is no significant risk to Lolita in any stage of Orca Network’s proposal for Lolita’s retirement in her native waters.
a. Transport of orcas according to established protocols is commonly done and has never resulted in serious health issues;
b. Immersion of captive marine mammals in their native waters is described as therapeutic in veterinary literature;
c. The initial immersion is likely to be followed by exploration of the seapen environs, and heightened energy and metabolic strength, as demonstrated by Keiko upon immersion in Icelandic waters;
d. Her ability to catch and eat wild fish is likely to begin to resume in a matter of weeks or months, again as demonstrated by Keiko.

2. A thorough examination will be conducted by a team of veterinarians and pathologists prior to transport to detect any potential communicable diseases. Assuming there are not, there will be no significant risk to any members of the Southern Resident Community as a result of Lolita’s return to her native waters.

Conclusion: there is no harm to Lolita or her family involved in returning her to her home waters.

3. Remaining in captivity will result in continuing mental and physical stresses and health issues.
a. Abundant evidence, including peer-reviewed scientific publications, indicate that captivity increases mortality rates for orcas;
b. Due to her loneliness from living without the companionship of another orca for over three decades, and due to her exposure to the midday Miami sun, and due to the extremely small size of the tank that has been her only environs for over four decades, she is continually suffering as long as she remains in captivity;
c. Despite Lolita’s unlikely good health at over 45 years of age, she is still subject to the adverse effects of captivity on her emotional, mental and physical health.

Conclusion: remaining in captivity DOES constitute real harm to Lolita, and given her relatively good health notwithstanding her conditions, she is an excellent candidate for return to her native waters for retirement under human care in a sea pen, and potentially for eventual full release.


clouds over the southwest, photographed by goes-15, 19th march 2015.

10 images over 2 and a half hours.

top: oklahoma panhandle, surrounded by parts of texas, new mexico, colorado, and kansas.

bottom: east oklahoma, surrounded by kansas, missouri, and arkansas. nebraska is at top left.

image credit: noaa/nasa. animation: ageofdestruction.

Arctic Is Warming Twice As Fast As World Average

"The latest word from scientists studying the Arctic is that the polar region is warming twice as fast as the average rise on the rest of the planet. And researchers say the trend isn’t letting up. That’s the latest from the 2014 Arctic Report Card — a compilation of recent research from more than 60 scientists in 13 countries. The report was released Wednesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration."

Learn more from npr.


All organisms pictured above were caught and killed as by-catch by commercial fishermen off the coast of California. These fishermen were using drift gill-nets—mesh nets that can reach one mile in length—to catch sword fish.

As estimated by Geoff Shester, the California Program Director for Oceana, one marine mammal dies for every five swordfish caught. These marine mammals—as well as other marine organisms such as sharks, rays, and turtles—die of either suffocation or intense wounds caused by the nets.

The use of drift gill-nets has been outlawed in California State Waters for over 20 years; however, fishermen who specifically target sword fish are allowed to fish with few restrictions. This basically means that they receive special privileges—one being the fact that they are allowed to use drift nets.

Oceana—an organization promoting marine conservation—supported the legislation to completely ban the use of gill-nets in Californian waters. Unfortunately, those supporting the ban lost their chance to protect marine organisms by one vote.

A friendly tip to those of you who enjoy seafood: please stop eating swordfish—especially if you know that the animal was caught through the use of gill-nets. If you ask a waiter or butcher where they purchase their fish from, they should be able to give an answer (even if they have to ask a manager). If it was caught in California, there may be a good chance that gill-nets were used.

Photos collected from NOAA.
Information from Brian Epstein’s article on PBS.


Cause for Celebration: Two California Marine Sanctuaries Double in Size

California has long been a leader in protecting its ocean resources. Starting a decade ago, with strong support from the Aquarium, the state established a comprehensive network of marine protected areas stretching from the Oregon border to Mexico.

The legacy goes back much further. Next door to the Aquarium, the waters at Hopkins Marine Station were designated as a marine reserve in 1931.

The federal government has stepped up to safeguard ecologically rich areas along our coast, too. Since 1980, it has created four national marine sanctuaries in California: Channel Islands (1980), Gulf of the Farallones (1981) Cordell Bank (1989) and - just offshore of the Aquarium - Monterey Bay (1992).

On Thursday, two of those sanctuaries grew significantly larger when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced a doubling in size of Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank national marine sanctuaries.

Strong public demand

With the expansion, national marine sanctuaries now cover a contiguous stretch of 350 miles off California’s coast, from Point Arena to Cambria. NOAA’s action came in response to strong public demand from fishermen, conservationists and public officials.

“With this decision, Californians again have demonstrated their passion for conserving our oceans and coasts, upon which our future depends,” says Margaret Spring, the Aquarium’s vice president of conservation and science, and our chief conservation officer.

The waters of the two sanctuaries are home to breeding colonies for important species, and are the source of the upwelling of nutrients from deep ocean waters that fuels productive food webs along a larger part of the Central Coast.

Nationally, more than 170,000 square miles of ocean are protected in marine sanctuaries. It’s an impressive - and growing - legacy of ocean conservation.

Learn more about the decision
Dive deeper into California’s national marine sanctuaries


Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) 

One of the major threats to marine turtles in the marine environment is incidental capture, injury, and mortality during fishing operations. To address interactions between marine turtles and trawl fishing gear, NOAA Fisheries works cooperatively with the commercial shrimp trawl industry to develop turtle excluder devices, or TEDs.

What is a TED?

A “Turtle Excluder Device” is a grid of bars with an opening either at the top or the bottom of the trawl net. The grid is fitted into the neck of a shrimp trawl. Small animals such as shrimp pass through the bars and are caught in the bag end of the trawl. When larger animals, such as marine turtles and sharks are captured in the trawl they strike the grid bars and are ejected through the opening. Initial TED designs did not allow for the release of larger leatherback and hardshell turtles and TED openings were later redesigned to address this problem. 

TED Regulations

NOAA Fisheries considered industry concerns and other public comments in developing and implementing TED regulations. Further, industry representatives continue to participate in developing and assessing new TED designs and modifications. NOAA Fisheries gradually phased in TED requirements and has provided numerous workshops and programs to work cooperatively with the industry regarding TEDs. NOAA Fisheries remains committed to working with industry as other geographic areas and fisheries are identified that require the future development and use of TEDs.

TEDs in Other Countries

With respect to foreign shrimp fisheries, NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Department of State have worked closely with numerous other nations that export shrimp to the U.S. to help them develop TED programs comparable to the U.S. program. These programs are now in place in various countries. The first multi-lateral binding treaty devoted solely to sea turtle conservation, the IAC is also an important framework to further promote TED programs in other countries.