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Provides information and safety tips relating to lightning and thunderstorms.
Suddenly a large flash of light brightens the sky. Kaboom! It is followed by a loud clap of thunder. Scary, but not unusual. Lightning occurs all over the world. In fact, about 2,000 thunderstorms are happening at this very moment. In all, 16 million thunderstorms occur each year.
Lightning is exciting and beautiful to watch. Just like people's fingerprints, no two bolts of lightning arc exactly alike. Don't get too close, though. The electricity from a lightning bolt is one of the most powerful forces on earth.
The sound of thunder can be startling, even scary. But don't worry. By the time you hear thunder, the danger of lightning has most likely passed. Until the next strike, that is. Usually we hear thunder a few seconds after we see the flash of lightning.
A Mythic Reputation
People have been fascinated by thunder and lightning for thousands of years. Throughout history, cultures have explained it in a variety of ways. Many ancient peoples believed good and bad weather was their gods' way of punishing or rewarding them.
The Ancient Greeks who lived between the fifth and second centuries B.C. believed lightning was used by the gods as a weapon. According to Greek mythology, Zeus, the greatest god of all, threw lightning bolts during battles. Both the ancient Greeks and later the Romans built their temples on land that had been struck by lightning because they believed the ground had become sacred.
In Scandinavia, according to the myths of the Vikings who traveled the world in the ninth and tenth centuries, Thor, the god of thunder and lightning, threw his favorite weapon, a hammer, at his enemies. As the hammer flew through the sky it created lightning. The rumble of thunder was Thor's chariot rolling across the sky.
In Europe during the Middle Ages many people thought lightning was created by evil spirits. By ringing church bells they believed they could scare away these spirits and keep lightning from striking their villages. Ringing bells was a dangerous job. The towers were usually the highest buildings in towns and therefore the most vulnerable to lightning strikes. In some parts of medieval Europe, people "fought" storms by rattling their swords or shooting off volleys of arrows into the sky.
Navajo Indians had a different explanation for lightning and thunder. They believed that lightning was made by the flashing feathers of Thunderbird, a mystical bird, and that thunder was produced by the bird's flapping wings.
Copyright © 1998 by The Weather Channel, Inc.