Last week at around three in the morning I was woken by the loudest thunderstorm I've ever heard in my life. It may sound silly but it was a genuinely awe-inspiring thing: the lightning turned the room incandescent, the sonic boom rattled the window like cannon fire, and then left with a bass rumble like continental drift. Being dazed from waking up no doubt strengthened this impression, but it's still strange to think how dramatic and yet ordinary thunder and lightning like this is. Honestly, if you don't believe me then just look at this real time map of lightning strikes around the world.
Every dot you see is lightning, with the color indicating how recently it took place and expanding circles showing thunder emanating from the strike. (The sound of thunder itself is caused by the lightning bolt heating up the surrounding air, which rapidly expands and rushes out, creating an explosive shock wave.) You can tweak various settings on the map using the icons in the top right, and even download it as an Android or iOS app.
worldwide there are roughly 44 lightning strikes every second
And yes, it looks like a lot of lightning strikes, but even then it's not showing the whole picture. There are thought to be roughly 1.4 billion lightning strikes a year around the world, or around 44 every second. The vast majority take place on land and Central Africa and South America are particular hot spots. Unfortunately, the data used to make this map (taken from a volunteer network of detector stations) is mostly concentrated in Europe and North America. But it's still impressive
Still, it's fascinating to think that every second of the day around the Earth, there are dozens of lightning strikes sizzling the ground and dozens of thunder cracks splitting open the sky. And, there'll be many, many more people like me, waking up in the middle night and wondering: "What in the world was that?"