Photographed by Bette Jackson
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Hi, I'm Dr. Jerry Jackson, out with the wild things. What causes lightning? Why does Florida have so much of it? Why is it mostly in the afternoon and evening? Slide across your car seat on a dry winter day, then touch someone and you may experience a spark of static electricity. Friction between molecules generates it. Lightning is a gigantic release of static electricity, and mega-bolts of Florida lightning are also the product of friction. With summer heat, more water evaporates from the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, raising the humidity. Afternoon summer heat raises the temperature of sand beaches and sidewalks to foot-burning hot. Such hot surfaces heat surrounding air, and hot air rises. As it rises, more air is sucked in to replace it both from the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. This air, latent with evaporated moisture, also heats and rises. The hotter the day, the faster the rise, and the bigger the thunderheads. Friction between water molecules racing upwards generates static electricity. This charge builds up all afternoon, until released as a bolt of lightning. Lightning starts fires, and fires have a dramatic impact on where the wild things are.
'With the Wild things' is produced at the Whitaker Center in the College of Arts and Sciences at Florida Gulf Coast University. For 'The Wild Things', I’m Dr. Jerry Jackson.