Story last updated at 3:21 p.m. Friday, August 9, 2002

Lightning fires not uncommon elsewhere
by Chris Bernard
Staff Writer

Though lightning strikes are uncommon in the Homer area, other parts of the state are not unfamiliar with the meteorological event -- or the fires it causes.

The Alaska Division of Forestry reported 162 lightning-caused wildland fires to date in Alaska this year, fewer than the 357 human-caused wildland fires.

So why did lightning strike Homer last week?

A National Weather Service spokesperson said the recent lightning strikes in Homer were likely caused by the spate of unseasonably warm weather.

"The air heats up and starts to rise, and when it rises high enough, the water vapor condenses," said Amy Welch at the NWS Anchorage office. "As it continues to rise, it turns into thunderstorms, and that's where you get your lightning strikes."

An NWS Web site said lightning originates around 15,000 to 25,000 feet above sea level when raindrops are carried upward until some of them convert to ice. The electrical charge moves downward in steps, producing a channel along which the charge is delivered.

Eventually, it encounters something on the ground that is a good connection. The circuit is completed, and the charge is lowered from cloud to ground. This entire event usually takes less than half a second.

The air within a lightning strike can reach 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and lightning can heat its path five times hotter than the surface of the sun. One ground lightning strike can generate between 100 million and 1 billion volts of electricity.

Each year, about 25 million cloud-to-ground lightning strikes occur in the United States. Regions along the Pacific West Coast have the least cloud-to-ground lightning in the United States.