Jackson County, Ore. — Many of the fires currently burning around the region are believed to be caused by lightning. The Oregon Department of Forestry said it estimates more than 40 lightning-caused fires in the past week and it anticipates through the season. But the bottom line the National Weather Service (NWS) in Medford is emphasizing – don’t underestimate the power of lightning.
At the peak of fire season, it almost feels like the region’s been on a non-stop marathon of fire after fire.
“The lightning itself can be as hot as five times the sun surface, so it can be very hot,” said Mike Petrucelli, NWS Medford Meteorologist.
What causes lightning? NWS Medford said depending on the different elements – it can get complicated, but it all comes down to charges.
“You have this that’s coming down and then the return stroke that comes up – that’s the light that you see, so that’s where the negatives being attracted to the positives travels down this direction, and you have the return that comes off. That’s where you have your lightning flash,” Petrucelli said.
The ground typically contains positive charges while clouds are made up of negative charges.
“Certain situations, if the conditions are favorable for that then you’re going to get an electrical charge that meet together and that’s where you get that lightning bolt at,” Petrucelli said.
Which is why the national weather service is reminding everyone as thunderstorms remain in the forecast. The rule of thumb: If thunder roars, stay indoors.
“Even though it may look like the storm is at a distance, the lightning can still occur well outside that thunderstorm,” Petrucelli said.
Another lightning safety tip – if you’re outdoors and see lightning, but can’t make it inside a building, you can also run to your car for shelter as well.