Amid Florida’s steamy and stormy summer, a group of researchers conducted something of a modern-day version of Benjamin Franklin’s legendary lightning-kite experiment, only instead of tying a metal key to a kite, these scientists have weather balloons that they send into thunderclouds in order to learn more about how, when and where lightning forms.
And these scientists are perhaps a bit more averse to the potential for self-injury than Franklin, who succeeded in shocking himself once while experimenting with electricity in his home laboratory, according to The Franklin Institute. Today’s researchers know a bit more about the dangers of lightning, which is one of the reasons they want to know more about it.
“The dangers are real, and we have a healthy respect for them,” Don MacGorman, a physicist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) who participated in the balloon launches, told LiveScience. “But we also know quite a bit about how storms produce hazards and so minimize our exposure to the more hazardous situations and locations. As a result, we think our risk from storms we are studying is less than our risk from vehicle mishaps as we navigate around storms, particularly if there are many people watching a given storm.” [Electric Earth: Stunning Images of Lightning]
The aim of the ongoing experiment, run by the University of Florida and conducted in early August this year, was to better understand how lightning is formed, where and under what circumstances it occurs in storms, and how to use that information with the data on lightning occurrence available to forecasters to improve forecasts of severe weather.
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