Watch: Plane hit by lightning during California storm

Watch: Plane hit by lightning during California storm

SAN JOSE, Calif. – A California driver captured a rare sight on camera – a lightning bolt striking a plane.

Thunderstorms are rare in San Jose, with its mild Mediterranean climate and cold ocean temperatures, but quite a few developed across the region this weekend. One driver was recording the little-seen sight Saturday when he caught a bolt of lightning hitting a plane.

"Was filming lightning from a severe storm earlier around south San Jose along Monterey Rd and caught a plane struck by lightning!" William Justo said in a post on on X, formerly Twitter. "How lucky I was to capture this?"

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You can hear the surprise in his voice when he said, "Whoa, that was a bright one," indicating that he wasn't exactly sure what he saw.

A little digital zoom allowed him to clearly see the strike.

"A closer, cropped look… Notice the blue-green sparks/discharge from the plane wings," he posted a few minutes later.

Blue sparks appear to trail the plane's wings.
Blue sparks appear to trail the plane's wings.

It's not unusual for commercial airplanes to be struck by lightning. In fact, the National Weather Service said passenger planes are struck by lightning an average of once or twice every year.

"Actually, aircraft often initiate the strike because their presence enhances the ambient electric fields typical for thunderstorms and facilitates electrical breakdown through air," wrote the NWS.

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The planes usually continue flying. The last confirmed commercial airplane crash in the U.S. attributed to lightning occurred in 1967. Pan American Flight 214 was headed to Philadelphia when it encountered thunderstorms. Officials found that the bolt ignited fuel in a reserve tank, causing the wing to explode.

Commercial airplanes are now designed and built to have conducting paths throughout the aircraft that can withstand a strike. However, according to the NWS, smaller aircraft, like private planes and experimental aircraft, are not required to have those protections on board.

In general, most airplanes are struck by lightning when flying through clouds. So, just like avoiding thunderstorms to stay away from turbulence, pilots avoid storms to prevent being struck.

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The other phases of flight that have an increased risk of being hit by a bolt of lightning are during both climb and descent, usually between 5,000 and 15,000 feet.

An airplane can essentially act as a lightning rod.

The bolt will initially strike one point, like the nose, and travel through the aircraft to an exit point, like the wing tip. After that, the bolt will continue where it could hit the Earth's surface.

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Electrical systems on airplanes are built to withstand a lightning strike, but one of higher intensity can damage systems that rely on electricity, like fuel valves, generators, power feeders and electrical distribution systems, according to Boeing.

In 2023, over 242 million bolts hit the U.S. California comes in 39th place nationwide with 673,463 strikes. Texas tops the list with more than 42 million, followed by Florida with 19 million, according to Vaisala Weather.


Original article source: Watch: Plane hit by lightning during California storm