Support for LAist comes from
We Explain L.A.
Stay Connected

Share This

News

Why Lightning And Thunder Caught LA By Surprise

5c80716d1da1fd00086229ed-eight.jpg
This time exposure photo shows a series of lightning strikes over Santa Barbara on Tuesday night.(Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP)
LAist relies on your reader support, not paywalls.
Freely accessible local news is vital. Please power our reporters and help keep us independent with a donation today.

How unusual is lightning in Southern California?

It's so uncommon that the National Weather Service had to send out this tweet reminding people not to stand in water during the storm:

Last night, reactions ranged from excited to more excited as the storm rolled through. And you have to admit ... it was really cool! Especially since we almost never get to see lightning around here.

Support for LAist comes from

WHY DON'T WE SEE LIGHTNING MORE OFTEN?

Thank the Pacific Ocean.

5c8070bcf18d8c00099a9f15-eight.jpg
The Pacific Ocean at Dan Blocker Beach in Malibu (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

The relatively cool water keeps the air above it cool as well, which in turn means things stay more stable in the atmosphere.

Compare that to what happens in the Midwest and East Coast, where thunderstorms are a regular occurrence.

Support for LAist comes from

"The Midwest doesn't have mountain ranges blocking the moisture from the Gulf Coast. And so, all of the moisture from the Gulf Coast comes up and inundates the East Coast," said Casey Oswant, with NWS.

That warm, moist air, collides with colder air inland, creating instability in the atmosphere, which often means thunderstorms.

WHY WAS THERE LIGHTNING LAST NIGHT?

According to NWS, a cold front from the northwest crashed into an atmospheric river that was carrying heavy, warm moisture up from the southwest.

Support for LAist comes from

"It was kind of like a goldilocks thing right? You had just enough of what's needed for thunderstorms," said Bob Henson, meteorologist with Weather Underground.

As the weather systems met, the cold front acted as a lifting mechanism, forcing some of the warm air from the atmospheric river skyward, creating instability, and perfect conditions for thunder and lightning.

5c807627f18d8c00099a9f1a-eight.jpg
A parting picture shows a time-lapse of Tuesday night's lightning strikes (Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP)

MORE SCIENCE

Fire Clouds Are As Terrifying As They Sound

Support for LAist comes from

The Big One: Your Guide To Surviving LA's Next Big Earthquake

How To Get Ready For The Next Big Earthquake. You Asked, We Answered