Thursday morning around 3:30 a.m., I (and everyone else in the neighborhood?) was shaken out of sleep by a crack of thunder that simply defies description. The storm had crept in under the cover of darkness, and then suddenly it was like a gunshot had gone off in the apartment. Holy sh*tballs. I immediately sat straight up in bed, turned and put my feet on the ground, stood up and moved quickly around the house unplugging all the important electronic devices. When you hear a sound like that, it just defies common sense — right or wrong — to think anything electric in the house would have a chance in hell of surviving if a bolt of lightning like that were to strike the building. Surge protectors? Hmmm… no.
Singapore gets a healthy dose of rain and thunderstorms. The storms pass through in various forms — a morning shower, an afternoon deluge, an all-day drizzle. But in addition to this, there’s another storm category all together: Thunder & Lightning. Within Thunder & Lighting, there are several degrees of severity (kind of like hills in a bike race). Category I would be like the thunderstorms we all know and love: charming diffused flashes of light in the cloudy sky, with gentle thunder like a bowling ball rolling down an alley (how sweet and middle-American). Category II might be a slightly more severe form: one or two visible flashes of lightning with prolonged thunder that has a crescendo (very Colorado afternoon). Category III is yet more intense: dark, gloomy skies, distant vertical lightning that hits the surface and loud thunder that sounds like a strike at a bowling alley (very Kansas summer day, with a good chance of tornadoes).
And then there’s Category IV, or better yet — if we’re comparing this to bike racing — Beyond Category: retina-shocking, blue-white vertical lightning with extremely loud and incredibly close thunder that sounds like a gunshot, with booming reverberation that slowly trails off to creepy silence. There is NO delay (one one-thousand, two one-thousand) — NONE — between the flash of light and the boom, meaning there is no distance between you and the lightning. Alert! You are under the lightning. Thursday morning was Category IV.
As I lay in bed, more flashes of light came all the way through the windows, through the blackout curtains and through my two shut eyelids — with no delay. FLASH BANG! Rumbling. Silence. Wait for it… FLASH BANG! Pity any man on the street with nowhere to take cover.
I find this phenomenon pretty fascinating, and have been doing a bit of research. Singapore, along with Venezuela, Brazil and Democratic Republic of the Congo (as if they don’t already have enough to worry about), have the highest incidences of lightning in the world. (Note to self.) There are myriad varieties of lightning: inter-cloud, cloud-to-cloud, cloud-to-ground, ball, sheet, heat, sprites, blue jets and elves, just to name a few. An average bolt of lightning is 30,000 amps and 500 megajoules of energy expended from the sky. The thunder that accompanies lightning comes from surrounding air heated to 36,000 degrees that expands into a “super-sonic shock wave” that decays to an acoustic wave we know as thunder.
Lightning has a leader and a return stroke, and we should all be happy we have two legs with a heart above them. Cows have four legs with a heart between them and in 2005, 68 cows died in New South Wales from one single strike to the tree they were sheltering under. Udderly sad. The human Guinness lightning strike record-holder has been struck seven times. (I would be very happy with zero.) So, watch out if you’re here in Singapore. This stuff will truly blow your socks off.