Moving at the speed of light, a flash of lightning happens fast. Where it happens can appear to be random, but that's not exactly the case.
That brings us to our first question. Do you know how lightning forms?
Get charged up for this answer! Lightning is all about electrons. Negative charges from the thunderstorm begin zigzagging down toward the ground. As that charge nears the ground, it draws positive charges upward from the surface.
These charges connect and a powerful electrical current develops forming the lightning bolt we see.
All of this happens in less than a second at a temperature five times greater than the surface of the sun!
Not all lightning is the same though. The most common types of lightning we see either happen within the cloud or from the cloud to the ground. It's rare, but lightning *can* go from the ground to the cloud.
You've likely heard, "when thunder roars, head indoors."
That leads us to our next question. Do you know how to tell how far away a storm is based on the thunder and lightning it produces?
As soon as you see the flash of lightning, count the seconds until you hear thunder. Divide that number by five to get the number of miles. So, if it's five seconds between the lightning you see and the thunder you hear, the storm is about one mile away.
Now, it's time to bust some lightning myths.
You may have heard lightning doesn't strike twice. That's false. For example, the Empire State Building is hit by lightning multiple times a year.
Next, if you are near someone impacted by a lightning strike, it IS safe to provide CPR. They aren't electrified.
Finally, "heat lightning" has nothing to do with heat at all. It's just lightning from a storm too far away to hear the thunder.