Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Light and steam--the power of Nature

Light.  Power.  Nature, in the form of storms. In the form of a tree.
A strong storm rolled through early this morning around 03:00. Lots of rain,  and light... full of sound and fury,  signifying...  lightning. 

Lightning filled the sky, both beautiful and dangerous.  Many's the time in my life when I went out watch the big storms in the Midwest.  It is awe-inspiring at times, to see the light show.

The physics of this power are evident in the pictures I took this morning after the storm.

Energy in the form of lightning, positive and negative charges in the sky and ground, meet.  Sadly for this big old tree, they met in its topmost branches.

How hot is lightning?  The old Brittanica Encyclopedia provides this information:  A typical lightning flash involves a potential difference between cloud and ground of several hundred million volts, with peak currents on the order of 20,000 amperes. Temperatures in the channel are on the order of 30,000 K (50,000º F). The entire process is very rapid; the leader stroke reaches the juncture point or the ground in about 20 milliseconds, and the return stroke reaches the cloud in about 70 microseconds. 

 Heat that intense flashes any and all moisture to steam and beyond...  Wood is strong, but not strong enough to contain that level of pressure.  This poor tree simply exploded.

You can see the channel through the tree this strike took.  The trunk shattered about midway up the tree, effectively topping it.  If you were to look at the very top of the tree, now lying on the ground to the north of the trunk,  you would see the initial point of contact.
The channel is about 4-6" deep here.
The main point of the trunk failure.

 When I say "the tree exploded" I am not kidding.  There was wood shrapnel, chunks 2-3' long, scattered around the tree, up to 60' away.  It would have been a real hazard had anyone been by this tree when it was hit.  I am sure the city will have to cut the tree down as the damage appears to severe to survive.

The power of a storm is stunning.  And beautiful in its own way.
A 3" limb blasted across the path.

More shrapnel from the tree, some 40' away.


  1. We had a whopper last night and in the midst of another tonight!...:)JP

  2. Holy cow. Impressive indeed. Imagine the amount of explosive you'd need to do that level of damage. Taking shelter under a tree during a storm is probably a bad idea!

  3. Lightening went down the chimney and struck my great grandmother's foot. It can do crazy stuff.

  4. Wow I often come across trees that look like that in the bush and really had no idea. Thanks for the info. B


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