Category Archives: Science

National Lightning Awareness Week: June 24-30, 2012

As National Lightning Awareness Week (June 24-30, 2012) continues, A Flash of Light urges all property owners to take extra precautions. While Mother Nature may be unpredictable, there are ways to reduce the chances of lightning-related destruction.

One way, according to the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS), is to install a whole-house/building surge protector. Lightning protection systems are designed to protect a structure and provide a specified path to harness and safely ground the super-charged current of a lightning bolt; they will not protect against a direct strike. The system works by receiving the strike and routing it harmlessly into the ground.

Other recommendations from IBHS include:

  • Unplug electronic equipment.
  • Know the important difference between a surge suppressor and a power strip. A power strip plugs into your wall outlet and allows you to plug in multiple electronic devices. However, a power strip does not protect equipment from being damaged by a power spike. A surge protector also gives the user the ability to plug in multiple electronic devices, but it also serves another very important function in that it also protects your electronic devices from a power spike.
  • Connect telephone, cable/satellite TV and network lines to a surge suppressor.
  • Make sure the surge suppressor has an indicator light so you know it is working properly.
  • Ensure the surge suppressor has been tested.
  • Purchase a surge suppressor with a Joule rating of over 1,000. The Joule rating typically ranges from 200 up to several thousand – the higher the number the better.
  • Look for a surge suppressor with a clamping voltage rating (voltage at which the protector will conduct the electricity to ground) between 330 v, which is typical, to 400 v.
  • Purchase a surge suppressor with a response time less than 1 nanosecond.
  • Do not cut corners. You don’t want to protect a $1,000 television or computer system with a $10 surge protector, for $25 and up you can provide much better protection
  • Have a licensed electrician or home/building inspector review the power, telephone, electrical and cable/satellite TV connections to your office building/home.

For additional information, visit


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Sorry, The Indoor Pool Is Closed Due to Lightning

My “me time” often consists of either working out at the gym (addicted!) or reading fitness/health blogs. I consider Peanut Butter Fingers, The Fitnessista, Bess Be Fit, Sweet Tooth Sweet Life, Healthy Tipping Point and Squats and Squash my friends (just like in real life when I invite friends to a “party,” I’m sure I’m “forgetting” someone).

While reading Healthy Tipping Point blogger Caitlin Boyle‘s post “Thwarted,” I was surprised to read: And then we get there and – BAM! – the (indoor) pool is closed because of lightening (??).

And, that got me thinking about lightning and indoor aquatics safety…

The Facts:

(* These “facts” were found via “Lightning and Aquatics Safety: A Cautionary Perspective for Indoor Pools” and their noted references.)

“There is a built-in conflict between indoor pool activities and lightning safety. Both recreational swimming and competitive swimming events are based upon three icons of Entertainment, Health, and Pleasure. Lightning safety is founded on stopping all those forms of enjoyment,” according to President & CEO Richard Kithil of National Lightning Safety Institute.

Tom Griffiths and Matthew Griffith see the situation differently – “The truth is, the practice of clearing indoor pools during outside thunderstorms does not keep people safe and, in many cases, may put them in higher-risk situations.”

In their article, “When Lightning Strikes: Should you close your indoor pool when lightning approaches? The answer may surprise you,” Griffiths and Griffith outlines the higher-risk situations pool-goers experience when their indoor pool is closed due to a storm.

High Risk Situations Due to Indoor Pool Closures:

  • When an indoor pool is cleared, guests go to the locker rooms, where they shower before changing. There have been numerous cases of reported shocks and electrocutions of people in showers and bathtubs or at sinks washing their hands. Just standing near metallic plumbing systems and metallic drainage systems carries the possibility of shock (actual documented cases).
  • There are inevitably children who need to call for a ride home. Again, there are reports every year of people injured from being shocked while using landline telephones. (This is the mechanism most frequently used by lightning to enter a building.) Even if these practices are banned and monitored, people are still allowed to leave the facility.
  • In 98 percent (44 out of 45) of the fatalities attributed to lightning in the United States during 2007, the people were outside. When people leave the facility and run across the parking lot to their car, they are exposed to a direct strike. Car accidents increase as well during thunderstorms due to hazardous road conditions. It is clear that closing indoor pools actually puts people at higher risk of being injured by lightning than allowing them to keep swimming.

The bottom line: People come to an indoor swimming facility to have fun and exercise and it’s nearly impossible to eliminate all risk associated with pools without also eliminating the numerous benefits associated with them.


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“Thundersnow” Debunked

The most recent snowstorm of Wednesday evening into Thursday morning that blanketed the Pascack Valley area packed a serious punch… and that punch was clearly visible and even audible.

Along with the 10 inches of snow, a rare and little-known phenomenon known as “thundersnow” rumbled over parts of the Pascack Valley.

The Pascack Valley area experienced "thundersnow" during the Jan. 26-Jan. 27 snowstorm.

According to National Geographic News, thundersnow—when thunder and lighting occur during a snowstorm—most often appears in late winter or early spring.

Thundersnow works similarly to a summer thunderstorm – the sun heats the ground and pushes masses of warm, moist air upward, creating unstable air columns. As the columns rise, the moisture condenses to form clouds. The element that makes thundersnow so rare is that the atmospheric instability that needs to be present is typically not present in the wintertime.

According to National Geographic News, thundersnow only occurs when “the air layer closer to the ground is warmer than the layers above, but still cold enough to create snow – a very precise circumstance.”

Residents of the Pascack Valley are no stranger to the rare phenomenon after last night/this morning’s rapid snowfall rates. In fact, experts agree that rapid snowfall rate, more than two inches an hour, is connected to thundersnow.

Did you hear the rumble yet miss the lightning bolt? That’s expected, according to scientists. During thundersnow, the sky simply gets bright (with no visible lightning bolt present) and moments later a rumble of thunder is heard.

Did you witness the thundersnow and have similar views to Stephen Colbert’s? Post your stories/comment below!

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Unbelieveable Lightning Storm Video

Thank God I don’t live in Texas. I think I’d have an anxiety attack if I looked out my window and saw this.

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Lightning Strikes on Saturn Captured

The NASA/ESA Cassini spacecraft was placed into orbit six years ago circling Saturn. Since then, numerous close-up images and videos have been released to the public. One of the most recently released videos feature a series of lightning strikes on Saturn.

The frames in the video were obtained over a 16 minute time span on Nov. 30, 2009. The super-flashes lasted less than one second. According to Discovery News, “the super-flashes are half the width of Arizona and unleash at least 10,000 times more energy than their wimpy cousins on Earth.” View the video here.

For further information or to read Ray Villard‘s analysis, visit Discovery News.

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Afternoon Easter Storm in IA Caught on Tape

I’m not exactly sure why this young boy who claims to be afraid of thunderstorms thought it was a good idea to stand outside on Easter in Oskaloosa, IA during the storm to simply capture this on tape. While I don’t condone this behavior in the slightest, the video is astonishing.

Take a look.

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Simulated Lightning at Museum of Science and Industry

The Museum of Science and Industry, 5700 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, has an interesting exhibit entitled “Science Storms.”

“Science Storms” includes six-large-scale exhibits (according to The Museum of Science and Industry):

  1. AVALANCHE DISK: Guests can trigger an avalanche by experimenting with a large, rotating disk of particles that show patterns while in motion. The 20-foot-diameter disk is angled at a fixed incline and filled with a two-color granular mixture of glass beads and garnet sand.
  2. 40-FOOT TORNADO: Visitors can be immersed in a 40-foot tornado to experiment with a towering vortex of vapor. Walk inside the swirling, illuminated tornado to disrupt its shape and then watch it reform.
  3. WAVE TANK (TSUNAMI): Guests can unleash their own tsunamis across a 30-foot wave tank. They control the wave tank by choosing the type of wave to create and then observe the impact of the wave on different coasts.
  4. SUNLIGHT: Visitors can explore the energy and colors in sunlight by experimenting with giant optical prisms that reflect natural light reflected through a 10-by-10-foot skylight by a heliostat mirror system on the Museum’s roof. The result might be a huge rainbow reflected on 30-foot-tall white screens.
  5. TESLA COIL (LIGHTNING): Based on the design of Nikola Tesla, the exhibit’s coil creates bright, loud and large electrical arcs. Two 20-foot-diameter grounding rings surround a round coil that sends high-voltage electrical arcs jumping 10 feet. The Tesla coil discharges 1.2 million volts of electricity.
  6. LIVE-FIRE EXPERIMENT: Visitors can study the chemistry of combustion by experimenting with live fire and witnessing how the flame reacts to changing conditions. They can ignite and adjust an 12- to 18-inch flame inside a fireproof glass booth and manipulate the size of water droplets falling from an overhead sprinkler system to understand the interaction between fire and water.

The Museum of Science and Industry is open Monday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The ticket price, included in museum  admission, is $15 for adults, $14 for seniors and $10 for children ages 3 to 11.

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