Ride the Lightning

Sky-borne accumulations of car exhaust can cause lightning, New Scientist reports.

[Image: You bring the weather with you].

"In the south-eastern states," we read, a recent study showed that "lightning strikes increased with pollution by as much as 25 per cent during the working week. The moist, muggy air in this region creates low-lying clouds with plenty of space to rise and generate the charge needed for an afternoon thunderstorm."
So it seems like a bit of an overstatement to say that car exhaust actually generates lightning storms, but it's nonetheless quite fascinating to think that the atmospheric conditions generated by traffic jams and congested freeways might also stimulate airborne electrical activity.
Traffic jams become a kind of planetary event. You could even construct lightning highways: deliberately planned, cultivated routes of positive charge.
Dubai, sick of skyscrapers (or simply bankrupted by them), instead builds itself a freeway dedicated to the electrical exploitation of the sky.
On a map of global lightning strikes, it shows up as an anomalous 50km stretch across the desert, where automotive wizards of the inner atmosphere summon light from the sky.
Metallica films its last music video there.
But the fact that you might not only be driving within a local weather system but actually creating one as you drive just fascinates me.
The weather above you is part of the traffic jam you're in; it is an epiphenomenon of urban infrastructure.
Or, to re-describe climate change in a slightly more mundane way: there is so much car exhaust in the air right now that it has begun to generate its own weather.

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Anonymous Dave said...

As a weather nerd, this is awesome. Best place to try this out would be Mexico City. That place is smog city. Great post.

January 19, 2009 11:03 PM  
OpenID twic said...

If you can drag your attention away from the manmade for a moment, you might find the Catatumbo lightning interesting - it's a permanent thunderstorm that sits five kilometres above the mouth of the Catatumbo River in Venezuela, generating a million discharges a year, and making more ozone than any other thing on earth.

It's caused entirely by meteorology - no freeways required!

January 28, 2009 7:11 PM  

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