Ride the Lightning

Sky-borne accumulations of car exhaust can cause lightning, New Scientist reports.

[Image: You bring the weather with you].

“In the south-eastern states,” we read, a recent study showed that “lightning strikes increased with pollution by as much as 25 per cent during the working week. The moist, muggy air in this region creates low-lying clouds with plenty of space to rise and generate the charge needed for an afternoon thunderstorm.”
So it seems like a bit of an overstatement to say that car exhaust actually generates lightning storms, but it’s nonetheless quite fascinating to think that the atmospheric conditions generated by traffic jams and congested freeways might also stimulate airborne electrical activity.
Traffic jams become a kind of planetary event. You could even construct lightning highways: deliberately planned, cultivated routes of positive charge.
Dubai, sick of skyscrapers (or simply bankrupted by them), instead builds itself a freeway dedicated to the electrical exploitation of the sky.
On a map of global lightning strikes, it shows up as an anomalous 50km stretch across the desert, where automotive wizards of the inner atmosphere summon light from the sky.
Metallica films its last music video there.
But the fact that you might not only be driving within a local weather system but actually creating one as you drive just fascinates me.
The weather above you is part of the traffic jam you’re in; it is an epiphenomenon of urban infrastructure.
Or, to re-describe climate change in a slightly more mundane way: there is so much car exhaust in the air right now that it has begun to generate its own weather.

3 thoughts on “Ride the Lightning”

  1. The exploded tree reminds me of one I saw many years ago in the Everglades. The story was that the tree was struck such that the sap instantly turned to steam and blew all the bark off, leaving a smooth barkless trunk riddled with holes where the sublimated sap forced its way out. Lightning boiling sap is apparently not uncommon but losing all the bark made this one unusual, perhaps unique.

  2. The spelling "remanent" is not an incorrect spelling of "remnant". "Remanent" magnetism is the technical term for a residual permanent or semi-permanent magnetic anomaly, as opposed to induced magnetism, which disappears when the inducing current is gone.

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