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Did lightning really strike a golf ball in mid-air?

Ben Domensino, Friday July 16, 2021 - 16:27 EST

A recent video did the rounds on social media showing a lightning strike appearing to hit a golf ball in mid-air at a driving range in Texas.

So, what really happened?

The video below shows two things:

  1. People that shouldn't have been hitting golf balls during a thunderstorm.
  2. Lightning appearing to hit a golf ball.

The first point above is straightforward. The second point is causing some debate among experts.

As Matthew Cappucci pointed out in a recent Washington Post article, a few experts in the field of lightning believe that the cloud-to-ground strike contacted a pole behind the golf ball, not the ball itself. This theory is supported by photos showing large poles holding up a fence around the driving range, which were obscured by rain in the viral video.

Another theory is that the golf ball became a meeting point for a negatively charged channel moving downwards from the cloud (called a stepped leader) and a channel of positive charge jumping up to meet it (called an upward streamer). This would have made the ball part of the channel of negative charge that produced the bright lightning strike.

Either way, this incredible video is a good reminder that it's a good idea to leave before lightning strikes, not after it.

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