The Washington Post

The width of a lightning bolt, part II

A lightning bolt exploded a long, thin strip of wood and bark from this poplar tree, spiraling from the top of the tree all of the way to the ground. The sap and moisture in the tree boiled with the heat of the lightning, causing bark and wood to literally explode along the path of the electric current.

This winter, I found another tree that was struck by lightning. This tree’s measurements were consistent with what I had determined from the tree in my first post. However, whereas I found only the bark exploded on the first tree, both the wood and bark exploded on the second tree along the path of the electric current.

Read below to for more explanation and to see more photos.

A photo comparison of damage done to an oak tree (left) and a poplar tree (right) by a lightning strike. The width of damage is similar, but the poplar tree suffered damage to its wood and bark while the oak tree primarily suffered damage to its bark.

I’m not exactly certain why the poplar tree was more damaged than the oak tree, but it clearly illustrates how devastating a lightning strike can be to an object that contains water and can conduct electricity. This is a vivid reminder to all of us why it’s best to stay sheltered during a thunderstorm.

Long, thin strips of wood have been blown out of this poplar tree, caused by the explosive force of lightning boiling the tree’s sap and moisture.
A close up of the wood that exploded along the path of the lightning bolt.
The lightning bolt’s point of entry into the ground. A strip of wood and bark were exploded from the top of the tree to the ground.


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