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Severe Weather Awareness Week: Dangerous lightning can be a fire starter

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Lightning in the sky near the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit. Lightning in the sky near the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit.
SOUTHFIELD, Mich. (WJBK) -

Severe weather can happen at any time in Southeast Michigan, and one main threat is lightning.

What is lightning?  It's a powerful electrical charge that travels from the cloud to cloud or the cloud to Earth surface.

When lightning passes through the air, it heats and expands that surrounding air.  The air then cools quickly.  This fast expansion of warming and cooling of the air causes a sound wave that we know as thunder.

Lightning travels at the speed of light, which is extremely fast, whereas thunder travels at the speed of sound, which is slower, explaining why we see lightning and then hear thunder.

There's an easy equation to tell how far away the lightning is.  Count the seconds between the lightning and thunder and divide by five.  For example, 15 seconds equals three miles, five seconds equals one mile and so on.

Lightning is a powerful electrical current, and one lightning strike can produce enough energy to light a 100 watt light bulb for almost three months.

Lightning is extremely dangerous and causes forest, grass and house fires.  There are over 4,000 house fires a year caused from lightning alone in the United States.

If you're enjoying the outdoors but can hear thunder, lightning is close enough to strike, and you should seek shelter immediately.

Here are some guidelines to keep you and your family safe during a thunderstorm when lightning strikes.  Get inside to a house, large building or car with the windows rolled up.  Stay off your cell phone, and avoid contact with sinks, tubs and toilets as lightening is an electrical current and can travel through the pipes into your home.  Lastly, stay away from windows and doors until the storm has passed.

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