USF researcher studying energy in lightning bolts

Image courtesy WISH

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — If you live in the Tampa Bay area, you’ve experienced the booming thunder and have seen the frightening lightning strikes when storms move through the area.
Now, a University of South Florida researcher is on a mission to find out just how powerful lightning can be.

University of South Florida School of Geosciences Associate Professor Matthew Pasek and his colleague Marc Hurst of Independent Geological Sciences, Inc. have developed a unique method to measure the amount energy expended by a bolt of cloud-to-ground lightning.

According to Pasek, one of the more difficult things to measure is the amount of energy in a lightning strike. While atmospheric physicists can approximate lightning bolt energy by measuring the electrical current and temperature of bolts as they occur, the numbers are usually approximations.

The team of Pasek and Hurst is the first to investigate the energy in lightning strikes by using geology “after-the-fact” research, rather than measuring energy during a strike. By conducting this lightning strike “archaeology,” the researchers were able to measure the energy in a bolt of lightning that struck Florida sand thousands of years ago.

“Everyone knows there is a lot of energy in a lightning bolt, but how much?” Pasek said.

“Ours is the first attempt at determining lightning energy distribution from fulgurites and is also the first data set to measure lightning’s energy delivery and its potential damage to a solid earth surface.”

Two teenagers were recently hit by lightning on Sand Key in Clearwater. A few days later, a man was hit by lightning in Indian Shores.

Learn more about the study tonight on News Channel 8 at 5:30 p.m.

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