Midwinter lightning and hail

Midwinter lightning and hail damages trees, plants and electrical-infrastructure but brings welcome rain and nitrogen for the soil.

I expect you too were totally shocked by the midwinter hailstorm that hit the Midlands recently. We do have short memories, and perhaps I am totally wrong, but I don’t remember it ever happening before. We see climate-change all around us, warning us of the devastation of the planet in part caused by the greenhouse gases.

Midwinter lightning strikes a tree in the front garden.

Awesome was the strike of lightening that hit my favourite tree only 22 metres from where we were sitting in our lounge. Luckily our solar system and electronica were preserved from the shock wave of the powerful electric-field by the proper earthing.

Bits of bark from the tree were found 50 metres away. Only time will tell if it survives; it has been hit before. Updating this page a year later, I'm glad to say it recovered completely.

It served as a stark reminder of how lightning can strike out of the blue; anyone standing out there would surely have been killed. Keep well away from trees in a storm, even one that is seemingly relatively far-off. South Africa has over 200 deaths each year.

Lightning provides about 10% of the nitrogen fixed from the atmosphere[1]; the other 90pc comes from the bacteria[2] on the roots of legumes.

Both make inert nitrogen in the air available to plants which are then able to build the amino-acids (proteins) that all life is totally dependent on.

We may think we get our protein from a cow, or an egg, but both are only made possible by the amino-acids in the fodder that they themselves consume.

A lightning strike according to Hill et al is typically about 5 km long with a current of about 25,000 amps. That is the amount used by a few thousand kettles; but of course the emf is around a staggering one million volts. The awesome heat produced is sufficient to break down the nitrogen-molecules, the atoms immediately forming oxides which then dissolve in the rain.

Acids are formed, and thus the nitrates in the soil which plants can absorbe to create amino-acids.

Hence the monsoons, as my grandmother would have said whenever a subject of science came under discussion.

As gardeners we welcomed the unusual weather; the 17mm of rain half-filled the reservoir that provides our water, and the greens and broad beans are already much happier. It also reminded us of the importance of seeking shelter when a storm threatens, even in midwinter.

Just as our children will be stunted by insufficient nitrogenous protein, plants in the garden grow miserably without enough of the element. 

It is at a time like this that we consider ourselves so lucky not to have a gardener. Witness nature in all its glory and fiery-power is one of the joys of being a greenie. And then there's the joy of being able to harvest the bounty from the skies; sunshine for our solar generator and rainwater for our underground reservoir.

Midwinter lightning and hail

Midwinter lightning and hail in the Midlands of SA is most unusual.

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