April’s Featured Photographer

LIGHTNING: The Fury of Nature by Jack Roper

A shocking fact: during our lifetime we experience a form of miniature lightning bolts in static electricity by simply touching a door knob.

Our planet is hit by electric storm strikes approximately 25 million times a year. At least 100,000 thunderstorms are observed annually by satellites and monitored by meteorologists and storm chasers. In March 1991 during a six-hour storm in the Midwest (including Wisconsin), 15,000 lightning strikes were monitored.

My experience as a lightning photographer started in 2007 when I photographed a spectacular lightning storm rumbling across Milwaukee harbor. The sky pulsated with tremendous electric bolt flashes. My technique for catching these less-than-a-second flashes with my Nikon camera is rather complex, but gratifying to capture the end results, observable on my website.

Lightning has a purpose, breaking down atmospheric nitrogen into a usable form of nitric oxide for plant and animal metabolic life. Pharmaceuticals companies discovered the value of nitric oxide over a century ago which led to the discovery of nitroglycerine and amyl nitrite (smelling salts), according to Wikipedia.

Ozone (O3) gas in the upper atmosphere is beneficial, helping to reduce ultraviolet rays hitting the earth. Lightning breaks down atmospheric nitrogen into ozone, according to Prof. Pao Wang with Atmospheric, Oceanic & Space Sciences in Madison. Ozone becomes unhealthy at ground level, acting as an oxidizing corrosive pollutant.

Fear of lightning is called keraunophobia. The International Lightning Detection Conference of 2008 estimated that each year around the world approximately 24,000 people are killed by lightning and about 240,000 people are injured world-wide. Keraunomedicine deals with lightning-related injuries.

From 1959 through 1999, lightning strikes injured 230 people in Wisconsin, giving our state a rank of 19th in the nation, according to the National Weather Service.

During a rolling thunderstorm, there is an exchange of negative and positive electrons triggered by a very complex molecular multi-stage process. All thunderstorms have lightning. Thunder is produced by volatile lightning discharges which cause the air to explode.

Sometimes lightning flashes are invisible (termed “dark lightning”) — just sudden pulses of unexpected powerful [gamma] radiation, according to a Washington Post article.

A lightning bolt is less than an inch in diameter according to Professor Wang, but its brilliance makes it look huge. Bolt temperature is around 50,000 degrees, with lightning speed at around 60,000 miles per hour.

What causes lightning? Various weather triggers such as a warm front colliding with a cold front cause a sudden updraft of air, turning clouds into rolling thunder and lightning, according to Wisconsin State climatologist Ed Hopkins. An exchange of positive and negative water molecules triggers a volatile air front.

Lightning bolts can travel either up or down or sideways taking the path of least resistance. The charge produces an “electromagnetic pulse” which can seriously interfere with electrical devices such as a pacemaker. The average strike contains one billon volts.

Discovery World’s Center For Public Innovation in Milwaukee allowed me to photograph their Tesla Coils discharge units which shoot out two million volts. This “current event” was electrifying!

Storm precautions:

* Avoid being outside; seek shelter immediately.

* Avoid window observation; accompanying winds can reach up to 115 mph.

* Avoid land line phones.

* Basement shelter is recommended because of potential funnel cloud formation.

* It is best to stay indoors for at least 30 minutes after a thunderstorm due to the potential for sudden residual lightning streamers, according to Milwaukee Meteorologist Vince Condella of FOX 6 TV weather.

Lightning demonstrates the power and potential fury of Nature. The Bible identifies its true origin: “From the throne [Heaven] came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder.” (Revelation 4:5).


Jack Roper’s striking work on photographic lightning was exhibited at the Medical College of Wisconsin. A 25-year veteran of photography, last summer he traveled to South Africa on a photo safari. He is currently employed as a RN with the Milwaukee Sheriff’s Department. His work can be viewed at: http://www.jackroper.net


Close crane strike final Hot Cloud lightning Walking giraffe lightning 4  4 Lightning letter head media 2 Lightning over UWM 3 Lightning storm media Puerto Rico clouds 2 Calatrava Lightning Night media 1

Lightning contact sheet  Roper

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