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Name: Rakesh
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Age: N/A
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Date: N/A 


Question:
Recently I came back from India and experienced how sever a thunderstorm can get. In my experience I saw lightning strike in my backyard twice around the same area. Now asking around I found out that it's quite common of an occurrence that lightning strikes our backyard. Now I was wondering what kind of factors affect if lightning will strike the ground or not? Do minerals in the soil play any role?


Replies:
Rakesh,

Lightning can strike the same location more than once and in some cases can do so frequently. A good example is that isolated tall objects (such as towers, tall hills, tall trees) can be struck frequently, primarily because as the tallest object around, electrical charge can most easily accumulate on them. Charge also accumulates most easily on more pointed, as opposed to blunt or flat, objects.

For this reason, a hilltop is not a good choice for a home if lightning occurs frequently in the area.

In the same way, if your backyard is at a higher elevation than the surrounding area, it may be a prime location for a lightning strike.

The mineral content of the soil may or may not have an effect, although a high metal content may allow the soil to better act as a ground, bleeding off electrical charge and reducing the likelihood of a lightning strike. Your backyard apparently does not have a high metal content in the soil.

It is not clear why lightning strikes the ground as opposed to a tall object nearby. This happened to one of my neighbors when lightning struck in their backyard instead of nearby trees or their chimney. For some reason, more charge built up in the backyard than on nearby tall objects, from which a stepped leader reached up towards the leader coming down from the thunderstorm cloud; upon connection, a lightning strike occurred.

David R. Cook
Meteorologist
Climate Research Section
Environmental Science Division
Argonne National Laboratory


There are several factors determining where lightning will strike.

Is your back yard a high point compared to the surrounding area? Does it have tall trees or single tress widely spaced? Also, is the soil sandy and prone to being wet or saturated when it rains?

All these things can contribute to repeated lightning strikes. Some man-made structures can also attract lightning, but I assume you do not have a radio tower or the like in your back yard.

Hope this helps.

R. W. "Bob" Avakian
Instructor
Oklahoma State Univ. Inst. of Technology


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