GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Lightning can strike almost anywhere. When it strikes water, it can be especially dangerous.
This week’s Ask Ellen comes from a viewer that wants to know what happens when it does? Are people safe? Or will they get shocked? Also, what about the fish in the water below?
Humans are in danger of electrocution, but believe it or not fish usually aren’t! The reason has to do with how electricity travels when in contact with a good conductor.
HOW OFTEN DOES LIGHTNING STRIKE WATER?
National research shows that lightning is ten times more likely to strike land than water. Much of this has to do with how thunderstorms form. Most thunderstorms require surface heating to grow and become powerful. Land allows for this heating process to happen at a much faster rate than when storms try to form over water.
Still, lightning does strike the water.
You can track current lightning anywhere in the world using this map here.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN LIGHTNING STRIKES THE WATER?
Water is a very good conductor of electricity. So is metal. Electricity is prone to following the ‘skin’ of an object that is a good conductor in a process known as the ‘Faraday effect.’
If you were to be in a car when it was struck by lightning, the electricity would run around the outside of the metal and down into the ground, leaving the inside of the car relatively untouched by an electrical current.
If you were to be in the water when it was struck by lightning, the electrical current would spread out along the surface of the water from the place where the lightning bolt struck.
WHY DON’T FISH GET SHOCKED?
Since the electricity from a lightning strike stays mostly at the surface, fish are relatively safe in the water during a thunderstorm! Very little electricity, if any, travels deep below the waves.
Humans, on the other hand, are in extreme danger. As most humans bob along the surface of the water we are in the direct path of an intense electrical current if a bolt struck nearby!
Scuba divers are relatively safer as they can dive deep below the surface, but could be in extreme danger the moment they need to come to the surface.