Thunderstorms: What Causes Them and How to Stay Safe


Parts of the UK have received thunderstorm warnings over the weekend from the Met Office. The yellow rating means that people should just be aware of them, as they can cause havoc to travel plans and cause power cuts.


Everyone knows what a thunderstorm is. Unless you live in a specific part of the world, it is unlikely that you have never experienced one. Some people can be scared of them, but often there is little danger provided you are sensible.


So, what causes them? Well, essentially, they occur when cold air and warm air in the atmosphere clash. Usually, the atmosphere is either cold or warm. But sometimes conflicting currents pass through and the friction between the temperatures causes the sound of thunder.


Thunder is entirely harmless, just loud, and it poses no danger to anyone other than to seem frightening. Lightning, on the other hand, can be dangerous, but only in certain situations.


Lightning is caused by clouds formed by condensed air from the unstable atmosphere. The cool droplets within the cloud freeze to create hail and the hailstones rub against each other creating an electrical current of positive and negative charge. This charge gravitates towards the Earth’s surface and forms a lightning strike when the pull becomes too strong.


The subsequent rumble of thunder after a lightning strike is caused by the discharge of warm air from the force of the strike hitting the Earth.


There are two types of lightning, sheet, and forked. Sheet lightning is the harmless kind. It is simply a flash of light that expands over the whole sky with no real direction. Forked lightning is the type you should watch out for. It can travel towards the Earth and strike tall buildings, power pylons, trees, and sometimes, rarely, houses.


The chance of you getting hit by lightning is minuscule. You would have to be in a specific situation such as sheltering under a tall tree and touching it to be affected.


How can you stay safe during a thunderstorm?


Avoid using metal equipment outside such as golf clubs or fishing rods as the metal can conduct electrical current. If camping, stay inside the tent and away from the metal rods.


Unplug any non-essential electrical items to protect them against a sudden power surge.


Avoid places with water if outside and don’t shelter under trees, power lines, or any objects made of metal.


If you’re in the car, keep all windows rolled up and stay inside the vehicle. If you have a soft-top car, head to an alternative shelter as soon as you can.


If your hair begins to stand on end, squat down to the floor with your head between your knees and your hands resting on them. Touch as little of the ground as you can. This helps protect you from a potential strike.

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