I am not sure how I feel about thunderstorms. They both frighten and fascinate me. Yesterday morning, I awoke to the sound of a thunder in the distance. Thunderstorms are not uncommon in Denmark, but severe ones are.
This one turned out to be severe.
As I was having my breakfast some thirty minutes later, heavy, tropical rain was already pounding at my window panes. It looked like someone was poring water straight down from the skies. I immediately noticed that my cat started to behave strangely. He seemed very upset and anxious, crouching in the corner, his eyes large and dark as the night. I talked to him with laughter as he has experienced multitude of thunderstorms previously and has never acted this way when they were approaching. I guess I was becoming a bit nervous myself at this point, as the air grew suddenly very still; despite the fact that the rain has receded, menacing, low clouds were just overhead.
The thunder was by then really close and I could feel the storm was about to pass over my house. As I was finishing that thought, I was almost blinded by a strange electrical light and within a fraction of a second almost deafened by the incredible roar that followed, while the whole house shook. At this point, Batcat had already found shelter under my bed.
I am not sure if I received a direct hit, or if it was the neighbours recently renovated house and the brand new flag pole that was the target. All I know is that it scared the living daylights out of me. I learned later in the day that this was one of the worst thunderstorms on record in Denmark and it gave rise to destructive tornadoes further up north, something unheard of in this part of the world.
I feel that any powerful phenomenon in nature is fascinating, particularly when it can be watched safely. Thunderstorms are definitely natural light shows that fall under this category.
Already as a child, we were told that they were very dangerous and stories about "Balls Of Lightning" were circulated in our family, claiming to have been experienced directly by my aunt and cousin in their cottage in the Czech countryside. The lightning ball rolled down over the roof of the cottage; a scary encounter during a hot summer night about thirty years ago. Apparently in some of the neighbouring houses it even entered the house and flew across the room injuring its occupants.
I became severely afraid of thunderstorm when living in North Carolina and made sure I was never ever caught in one while outside.
The scientist in me is always interested in cold facts and therefore I can not help but quote the first few sentences about lightning, as listed by wikipedia:
"Lightning is an atmospheric discharge of electricity accompanied by thunder, which typically occurs during thunderstorms, and sometimes during volcanic eruptions or dust storms. In the atmospheric electrical discharge, a leader of a bolt of lightning can travel at speeds of 60,000 m/s (130,000 mph), and can reach temperatures approaching 30,000 °C (54,000 °F), hot enough to fuse silica sand into glass channels known as fulgurites which are normally hollow and can extend some distance into the ground. There are some 16 million lightning storms in the world every year."
Interestingly this means, that in the immediate vicinity of a lightning bolt, the temperatures are about 3x higher than the surface of the sun. I find it utterly fascinating, that such high temperatures can be created, even for a fraction of a second, here on Earth. Likewise, the fact that to this day it is not completely clear to scientists how lightning forms amuses me.
And I guess we all know that the safest place to be in a thunderstorm is inside a car, thanks to Mr. Faraday and his cage.
In recent years, more serious injuries and fatalities than ever before are reported as a result of lightning even as far up north as Scandinavia. Hoverer spectacular these natural events might be, I guess eventually one should at all times express a deep respect for nature and never underestimate its hidden fury.