Lightning: How much do you know about this striking weather phenomenon?

Dramatic lightning strike over a forest
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Lightning is more than just a stunning spectacle. Take our quiz to see how much you really know about this electrifying natural wonder.

Question 1 of 13

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Multiple lightning strikes over a city
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How many times does lightning strike the earth each day?

Lightning abounds around the world with dozens of lightning flashes occurring somewhere on the planet every second. Altogether these giant high-voltage electrical sparks — caused by an imbalance between positive and negative charges — total about 8 million per day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Not every place is equally lightning prone. Nature's pyrotechnics are far more likely when warm, moist air rises and mixes with cold air above. Lightning hot spots include Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the pampas of Argentina and a stretch of central Florida between Tampa and Orlando.

Question 2 of 13

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A lightning strike in Manhattan's midtown skyline
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True or false: Lightning can strike the same place more than once.

It's an old myth that lightning never strikes twice. According to, taller objects like buildings, trees and hills are more likely to be struck by lightning, and it's not uncommon for some to take repeated hits. For example, the Empire State Building and Chicago's Willis Tower receive multiple lightning strikes a year.

Question 3 of 13

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Giraffes walk while lightning strikes in the background.
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Standing close to 20 feet tall, giraffes are often the tallest thing in the open savannas of Africa. Does this mean they get struck by lightning more often than other creatures?

It's hard to know for sure. While the tallest object in an area is more susceptible to lightning strikes, it doesn't always work out that way.

Anecdotally, there's evidence of these long-necked creatures being struck more often than other animals — considering that three were struck over a three-year period in one South African reserve — but there's not a lot of hard data.

A 2011 study about the safety of animals during lightning strikes, argued that giraffes would be more at risk from lightning rebounding off a tree onto their heads.

Luckily for giraffes, lightning strikes are pretty rare, so there's not much risk for a shocking death.

Question 4 of 13

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A lightning strike in the Sonoran Desert of Phoenix, Arizona.
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True or false: Lightning only exists on Earth.

Scientists have recently discovered that this fiery force of nature exists throughout our solar system. Lightning has been observed on Saturn, Venus and Jupiter, and space researchers believe it may eventually be found on Uranus and Neptune.

But it's not just confined to our solar system. Scottish scientists recently announced that radio waves coming from HAT-P-11b, a planet in a solar system 124 light-years away, could indicate the presence of spectacular lightning storms that put our earthly light shows to shame.

Question 5 of 13

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A woman looks out the window at a bolt of lightning
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How many Americans, on average, die each year from a lightning strike?

With over 25 million lightning strikes in the U.S. annually, you might think the number of fatalities would be far higher. But, in fact, only about 10 percent of those struck by lightning actually die, usually due to a heart attack. According to the National Weather Service (NWS), from 2006 to 2016, 352 Americans lost their lives from lightning — an average of 32 per year.

Question 6 of 13

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Thick white clouds with dark bottoms and lightning
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What percentage of lightning bolts exit the clouds?

Nearly three-quarters of all lightning stays in its cloud of origin. You've probably seen these stormy sky shows (called intracloud, or sheet, lightning) where clouds appear to light up and glow from inside. The remaining 25 percent of lightning bolts either jump to another cloud, flash across the sky or strike the ground or objects below.

Additional electrical wonders also venture out of thunderclouds, including occasional floating orbs of electricity known as ball lightning and "transient luminous events," ghostly lights called sprites, blue jets and elves that dance in the upper atmosphere above active thunderstorms.

Question 7 of 13

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Camping tent out during a thunder storm and lightning strikes
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If you're outside during a thunderstorm what's the safest thing to do to avoid being struck by lightning?

As soon as you hear thunder, the only safe place to be is inside an enclosed structure, according to NWS. Safe spaces include homes, offices, stores and vehicles with the windows rolled up.

If you're outside and can't find shelter, get away from elevated areas like mountains and ridges and avoid trees and tall objects. Also stay clear of ponds, lakes, rivers and swimming pools. (Water is a good conductor of electricity, and the majority of lightning deaths occur during water-related recreational activities like boating and fishing.) If you're caught in an open area like a park or golf course, avoid being the tallest object, but don't lie flat on the ground. Lightning produces deadly electrical currents that run along the ground's surface. Instead, crouch in a ball with your knees and feet together and your head tucked and hands over your ears. This lets you stay low with as little ground contact as possible.

Question 8 of 13

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A thunderstorm and a bolt of a lightning
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True or false: Thunder can't exist without lightning.

Thunder is the sound made by lightning — caused by the rapid expansion of air molecules around and within a lightning bolt that produces a sonic-boom-type shock wave. So thunder can't exist without its flashing companion. However, you can sometimes see lightning without hearing thunder (as in the case of "heat lightning") because it's out of audible range, according to the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL).

Question 9 of 13

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A bolt of red-yellow-orange electricity
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What temperature does air reach around a lightning bolt?

Lightning produces heat when its electrical charges meet resistance as it passes through materials. Things that are good conductors of electricity (meaning they produce less resistance) don't heat up as much because the charges move through more easily. Air isn't a good electrical conductor, so it becomes super-heated as lightning streaks through. In fact, it can reach temperatures five times hotter than the surface of the sun (50,000 degrees Fahrenheit), according to NWS. Extreme heat from lightning can even vaporize the water inside a tree, creating steam that blows it apart or strips its bark.

Question 10 of 13

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Lightning strikes around a cloudy mountain.
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In addition to thunderstorms, lightning is also sometimes produced during which of the following events?

Thunder may not exist without lightning, but you can definitely have lightning without a thunderstorm. In fact, lightning occasionally accompanies other kinds of storms, such as hurricanes and snowstorms (called 'thundersnow'), according to NSSL.

Dry lightning (without rain) is also sometimes witnessed during nuclear detonations, forest fires and volcanic eruptions when a pyrocumulus, or fire, cloud is produced by intense heating of the air from the ground.

Question 11 of 13

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Lightning striking Horseshoe Bend
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True or false: Survivors of lightning strikes usually recover within a few weeks and generally don't suffer lasting damage or ongoing health problems.

Unfortunately, the 90 percent of victims who live to tell their sizzling tale often endure serious ongoing physical disabilities that can include blunt-force injuries, chronic pain and brain and nervous system issues (including personality changes, memory and cognition issues, social withdrawal, intense headaches and depression).

One of the oddest effects of a lightning strike is a branching fern-leaf pattern that temporarily scars the skin like a feathery tattoo. Called a Lichtenberg figure, these fractal designs occur most often on the arms, back, neck, chest or shoulders.

Question 12 of 13

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long distance lightning bolt
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What's the longest recorded lightning strike?

In 2007, scientists recorded a 200-mile lightning flash over central Oklahoma. Lightning has long been known to flare beyond its parent storm, but many were surprised at this extreme long-distance leap.

Question 13 of 13

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Sheep run from a lightning storm.
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Animals seem to have a sixth sense when it comes to lightning and instinctively know how to stay safe.

In 2016, National Geographic reported that more than 300 reindeer were found dead, their bodies lying scattered across the grasses of a mountain plateau in Norway. It's believed they were struck by lightning as they huddled together.

This isn't the only report of mass animal deaths from lightning strikes. Both wild and domesticated animals are struck regularly. Keeping pets and livestock safe during a thunderstorm isn't much different than keeping yourself safe — get them indoors in an enclosed shelter and away from high elevations, water and tall objects.

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