The lightning bolt may have consisted of a series of four strokes, or rapid electrical discharges from the cloud and ground, tweeted lightning scientist Chris Vagasky. The first sign of its occurrence was a blinding light that caused the camera to overexpose the scene. The barrage first hit the right rear of her husband’s pickup truck, about a few car lengths from the camera.
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A heartbeat later, Whalen can be heard responding with a scream, followed by an important question, “Is he okay?”
Her husband and children were unharmed when the steel-framed vehicle acted as a “Faraday cage,” in which the lightning bolt’s current travels around the metal body and usually travels from the tires to the ground. The strike will avoid people as long as everyone is inside the vehicle and not touching the outer metal. This is also one reason why planes are often struck by lightning without major damage.
Simultaneously with the first flash, a bright orange shell surrounds where it makes contact with the truck as sparks erupt in all directions.
In less than an instant, two more rapid flashes are seen, as well as smoke rising from the impact site. Vagasky thinks the smoke was created from the first blow.
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“When lightning strikes, it sends thousands of amps of current and extreme heat to an object in just microseconds, causing an explosive expansion,” Vagasky said in a message.
The final flash — heralded by an explosion sweeping across the sky — happens when the viewer’s vehicle darts forward in the lightning’s path. Another burst of sparks is seen, along with an additional orange flame.
While the lightning appears relatively straight even from a short distance, the video shows a stroke with many small zigzags and loops – a plasma channel. Eventually the canal disappears in pieces.
Plasma is the result of lightning, formed when air molecules are split into their atoms. At that point, plasma can be as hot as 50,000 degrees, or about five times hotter than the sun.
“The lightning channel is more like a plasma, and that’s what we see right in front of the camera at the end of the video,” says Vagasky.