Storms
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Cloud Lightning

Strange Squid-like Lightning Spotted Over France

Image
© Oscar van der Velde
High above Earth, in the realm of meteors and noctilucent clouds, a strange and beautiful form of lightning dances at the edge of space. Researchers call the bolts "sprites"; they are red, fleeting, and tend to come in bunches. Atmospheric scientist Oscar van der Velde of Sant Vicenç de Castellet, Spain, photographed this specimen on June 5th.

"With my new zoom lens I can now magnify the sky above thunderstorms to get very detailed images of sprites," says van der Velde. "This amazing 'carrot sprite' occurred near the coast of southern France about 250 km away from me."

"Sprites are a true space weather phenomenon," he adds. "They develop in mid-air around 80 km altitude, growing in both directions, first down, then up. This happens when a fierce lightning bolt draws lots of charge from a cloud near Earth's surface. Electric fields [shoot] to the top of Earth's atmosphere--and the result is a sprite. The entire process takes about 20 milliseconds."

Cloud Lightning

Recent Upswing in Lightning

Have thunderstorms been more electrified this year?

So far, 2009 has been a deadly year for lightning strikes. Two people were killed on Wednesday, bringing the total number of lightning-related deaths to six, with 50 injuries reported total. A Southwest Airlines plane was struck by lightning in California earlier this week. Is this trend of lightning strikes on people and airplanes abnormal this year?

On average, 60 people are killed and over 350 people are injured by lightning each year, with June, July and August the most common months for deaths. In 2008, 27 people were killed by lightning and 303 injured.

As for aircraft, 66 have reported lightning strikes so far this year. Last year, 55 reported lightning strikes to airplanes occurred through May.

The number of deaths and the number of airplanes hit does not seem out of the ordinary this year. Actually, the number of lightning flashes is considerably less than what was reported this time last year. As of June 3, 2009, there have been 5,589,686 flashes, with 6,517,381 reported by June 3, 2008.

One of the reasons for this could be colder-than-normal weather across the northern tier of the country that has suppressed the number of thunderstorms and has significantly reduced the number of tornadoes this year. The number of reported tornadoes so far this year is 685, just over half of the average annual amount, which is 1,297.

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Kilauea Volcanic Lightning

Image
© Stephen O'Meara
On May 19th, adventure photographer Stephen O'Meara was monitoring an eruption of the Rabaul volcano in Papua, New Guinea, when something happened that, he says, "I'll remember for a very long time. A storm cloud approached the volcano's 2 km plume, and lightning began to arc between the two." He set up his camera in a secure location and recorded the "awesome and blinding" spectacle.

This isn't the first time lightning has been observed around a volcano. Recent examples include Alaska's Mt. Redoubt, Chile's Chaitin volcano and Kilauea in Hawaii. Clouds of water vapor shoot out of these volcanoes in a dusty mixture likened to a "dirty thunderstorm," and lightning emerges from within the turbulent plume.

Cloud Lightning

US: Powerful storms hit Oregon

Oregon thunderstorm June 2009
© unknown
Intense thunderstorms pounded Central and Western Oregon Thursday, toppling trees and knocking out power, but apparently causing no serious injuries.

The storms began early in the afternoon and moved north toward Portland, which saw strong winds, heavy rain and a lightning show at rush hour. Several cities saw golf-ball sized hail and there were unconfirmed reports of funnel clouds and tornado activity.

The National Weather Service lifted a severe thunderstorm watch early Thursday evening. The watch was expected to stay in effect until 9 p.m., but the storms were quicker than expected.

Power outages were reported across the storm area. Portland General Electric said about 50,000 of its customers had no lights as of 6 p.m. The utility said the hardest-hit areas were in Salem, Silverton, Woodburn, West Linn and Oregon City.

Temperatures were in the mid-70s in the Willamette Valley when the storm hit, but quickly dropped into the lower 60s. Dan Keirns, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Portland, said the storm was the type usually seen midsummer, not late spring.

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US: Severe thunderstorms strike Central Oregon

Dramatic, even explosive thunderstorms slammed Central Oregon Thursday, pelting the area with more lightning, intense downpours and golf ball-sized hail and knocking down trees and power lines, cutting off power for thousands and causing it to flicker for thousands more.

The National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm watch for the region through 8 p.m. and also a severe thunderstorm warning at mid-afternoon as one of the larger storms located south of Culver, moving north at 20 mph.

Downed lines blocked Highway 126 near Cloverdale for a time, and other downed trees were reported in Deschutes River Woods and southeast Bend.

Police and fire crews scrambled to calls about possible lines and trees down as the skies turned very dark and storms swept through the area before a brief respite, even sunshine at mid-afternoon.

About 2,400 Pacific Power customers lost power at 1:40 p.m. for almost two hours due to a storm in the China Hat Road area southeast of Bend. Another 1,000 Central Electric Cooperative customers lost power for varying lengths as the storms moved through, news partner KBND radio reported.

Cloud Lightning

US: Oregon blasted with 24,000 bolts of lightning

lightning Albany Oregon
© phtogirl
While many of Oregon's forest protection districts have not formally entered wildfire season, Nature made an unofficial declaration of its own during the past week. A barrage of more than 24,000 lightning strikes ignited fires across the central and southwestern regions of the state. The Oregon Department of Forestry's firefighters and private forest landowner resources have been busy extinguishing the fires.

In the Oregon Department of Forestry's (ODF) Southwest Oregon District, 32 lightning-caused fires have been reported, with the largest about five acres.

"This one occurred in the Applegate drainage," ODF's Greg Alexander said. "On the first day of the storms, it was very dry, and then we had some moisture in the following days."

He said the district has experienced lightning daily from May 29 to the present. Reports of fire continue to trickle in, with three new ones detected on Wednesday.

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Freak storms pummel Southern California

Two women in the Inland Empire are killed and another injured in lightning-related incidents. Lightning also ignites more than a dozen brush fires.

Thunder rumbled through the Southland and freak storms pelted the region with hail, lightning and unseasonal rain, killing two women in the Inland Empire, bedeviling aviation and touching off more than a dozen brush fires on the parched mountain slopes ringing Los Angeles County.

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Report: Danish golfer killed by lightning

A golfer in Denmark reportedly has been killed by lightning.

The national broadcaster DR says the man in his 60s interrupted his golf game when a thunderstorm began and was walking to a club house when the lightning struck and killed him.

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Hurricanes peak a day after lightning

A global analysis of lightning during hurricanes has bolstered observations that the worst winds come a day after the bolts strike.

Forecasters struggle to predict peak hurricane winds. So Colin Price of Tel Aviv University in Israel and colleagues studied all category 4 and 5 hurricanes between 2005 and 2007. Out of 58 hurricanes, 56 showed a significant correlation between lightning activity and wind speed, with peak winds arriving 30 hours after the lightning on average. Price believes the lightning may be caused by a change in wind patterns (Nature Geoscience, DOI: link).

Attention

Virgin Blue passenger plane forced to land in Melbourne after being hit by lightning strike

Passengers on a Virgin Blue jet hit by lightning today say they were scared as the plane returned to Melbourne Airport after aborting a flight to Launceston.

Flight DJ1370 was 10 minutes into its journey this afternoon (AEDT) when the 737 was struck "multiple times'' by lightning, a Virgin spokeswoman said.

The captain of the aircraft, carrying 117 passengers and six crew, made an immediate decision to turn back to Melbourne.