Lightning is an amazing phenomenon that shows the true power and awe of nature. We have all seen a lightning strike during a storm that is both beautiful and intimidating. We know that these strikes can start wildfires, as we have seen a lot of in California recently, is this due to high heat from the lightning or something else. How hot does lightning get?
Lightning can reach temperatures of 50,000 to 70,000 degrees Fahrenheit (27,760 to 38,871 Celsius). These very high temperatures are caused due to the rapid discharging of large amounts of static electricity (energy) in a very short period of time. Different colors of lightning will reach different temperatures.
The extremely high heat produced by lightning is some of the highest temperatures found on earth. Let’s take a closer look at lightning, the different types and the massive energy it releases.
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Table of Contents
- What Is Lightning?
- How Hot Is Lightning?
- Is Rainbow Lightning Real?
- What Is Superbolt Lightning?
- Is Lightning Hotter Than Plasma?
- Where In The World Has The Most Lightning Activity?
- Can I Get Struck By Lightning Indoors?
- Can Lightning Curve?
- What Is The 30-30 Rule For Lightning?
What Is Lightning?
Lightning is a naturally occurring phenomenon. It takes place when two regions, each with electrostatic charges, come into contact with each other and temporarily neutralize each other. This results in a huge discharge of energy (up to one gigajoule and sometimes, more).
This results in electromagnetic radiation which includes heat, light, and sound (in the shock wave we know as “thunder”).
Lightning most commonly occurs during “thunderstorms” but it’s important to note that it can occur at any time and is also very common during periods of volcanic activity including eruptions.
Though there are many forms of lightning, the three most commonly observed are:
- “heat lightning” (sometimes also called “sheet”) lightning which is observable in huge flashes of light many miles away but which does not result in a thunderclap
- “dry lightning” (sometimes also called “forked”) which can cause fires, particularly forest fires
- “ball lightning” (Ball lightning is a much rarer phenomenon than the other two types and it appears as a ball of electrical energy, however, due to its rarity, it’s not been fully studied or understood by scientists.)
This video from National Geographic has some great info about the science of lightning:
Also read: Can Static Electricity Start A Fire?
How Hot Is Lightning?
A bolt of lightning can be incredibly hot. Because it represents the discharge of a huge amount of energy in a very small fraction of time, the temperature can reach up to an incredible 50,000 – 70,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
This is, of course, one of the reasons that lightning is so dangerous to living beings. If all that heat is released into a person struck by lightning, then they will, quite literally, cook in their own skin.
We’ve been asked if this means that lightning can melt steel? And the answer is, of course! Lightning could easily melt steel if it strikes it.
In fact, there’s no metal that can withstand the temperature of lightning without melting and even, possibly, boiling if the lightning strike lasts for long enough.
Watch this for more info on how hot lightning can get:
Also read: How Hot Is A Lighter Flame?
How Hot Is Purple Lightning?
Purple lightning is often seen during thunderstorms and it’s one of the more moderate forms of lightning with temperatures reaching up to 55,000 degrees Fahrenheit!
How Hot Is Green Lightning?
Green lightning is slightly cooler than purple lightning but that doesn’t mean you’d want to get struck by it. It still manages to pack in an incredible 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit!
How Hot Is White Lightning?
White lightning can be hotter still and may exhibit temperatures of around 53,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
What Color Lightning Is The Hottest?
The color of lightning, as you’ve probably already gleaned by now, is an indication of how hot that lightning is.
The coolest lightning is found in the infra-red spectrum, and it’s not easily detected by the human eye, whereas the hottest lightning tends to be in the ultraviolet and visible-violet spectrum.
One thing that you may have noticed is that lightning can take on multiple colors at once, this is because it’s possible for multiple discharging events to take place at the same time.
It may also be a reflection of the atmospheric conditions, for example, blue lightning is often a reflection of the fact that it is hailing.
What Color Lightning Is The Fastest?
This is down to the electromagnetic frequency of the light involved in the lightning and white light is, in fact, the fastest frequency (rather than the ultra-violet as you might have expected), and infra-red is the slowest.
Thus, the speed of the lightning is not directly related to how hot the lightning is.
Is Rainbow Lightning Real?
No. At least, not that it’s been documented, though it’s possible that a lightning bolt might produce all the colors of the rainbow, some would be overwhelmed by the dominant color.
However, there’s a nice story of lightning striking next to a rainbow as reported in the Daily Mail.
What Is Superbolt Lightning?
A Superbolt is a lightning strike in which more than 100 Gigajoules of energy are dispersed, which means that a superbolt is basically 100 times (or more) more powerful than an ordinary lightning bolt.
However, that doesn’t mean that they are uncommon.
In fact, lightning researchers suggest that this magnitude of strike takes place 1 in every 240 lightning strikes!
Thus a “superbolt” is simply the extreme end of the spectrum under which normal lightning strikes occur.
What Was The Strongest Lightning Bolt Ever?
According to USA Today, the strongest lightning bolt ever was a “megaflash”. It took place in the skies of Argentina in South America and it lasted 16.73 seconds on March 4, 2019
However, they also note that the longest physical strike, of 440 miles, took place in Brazil in October of 2018.
Scientists used satellite technology to monitor and track both of these strikes and there’s been no official decision as to which is the “strongest” bolt of them all, as yet.
Is Lightning Hotter Than Plasma?
No. Because, technically speaking, lightning itself is plasma and thus, this question could be rephrased as “is lightning hotter than lightning”?
That’s a fairly pointless question, we’re sure that you’ll agree because nothing can be hotter than itself.
Is Lightning Hotter Than The Sun?
This is a better question, however, and the answer is that lightning is much hotter than the surface of the sun.
The surface of the sun burns at roughly 10,340 degrees Fahrenheit which is almost cold when compared to the 50,000+ degrees of lightning.
However, if we were to head to the core of the sun? The temperature there exceeds 27 million degrees Fahrenheit! That’s a lot hotter than lightning.
In fact, you only have to go slightly below the surface of the sun to find temperatures that far exceed that of lightning, it’s about 900,000 degrees there.
What Is Hotter Lightning Or Lava?
As you probably know from reading tales of human sacrifice in schools, or about Pompei for that matter, that lava is plenty hot enough to be fatal to human beings but is it hotter than lightning?
Not even close, in fact, lava barely gets up to 3000 degrees Fahrenheit. While lightning reaches temperatures above 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
That doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea to try and swim in it, though, it’s still way too hot for human safety.
What’s The Hottest Thing In The Universe?
Lightning, and in fact pretty much everything else within human reach, is nowhere near as hot as the hottest thing in the universe.
That’s a star that has gone supernova and is currently using fuel at the rate of about 6,000 times our very own Sun.
The core of such a star reaches 100 billion degrees or more! And absolutely nothing known to man could survive in such a place.
Where In The World Has The Most Lightning Activity?
Lake Marcaibo in Venezuela is the place that attracts the most lightning of anywhere in the world. It sees up to 10 hours of lightning a day for just under 300 days a year on average!
At its peak of activity, lightning can strike the lake up to 30 times a minute! It is a peculiar trick of geography that makes it very easy for lightning to discharge over the lake.
Can I Get Struck By Lightning Indoors?
Yes. In fact, the CDC suggests that up to one-third of all lightning strikes take place on people who are indoors!
They say you should avoid water, electronic equipment, phones of any kind, and windows, doors, porches, and concrete floors to be safer when there’s a thunderstorm raging outside.
Can Lightning Curve?
Yes, this is due to the way that individually charged particles are moving in the air when the lightning strike discharges. It is not “bending light” however. That is physically impossible.
What Is The 30-30 Rule For Lightning?
If you want to stay safe in lightning, then you start counting the moment you see lightning and if you reach 30 or more before you hear thunder, you are OK, but if you don’t, you should seek shelter immediately.
You should then wait for at least 30 minutes (without any more lightning) after reaching shelter before you venture back outside.