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Lightning: Nature strikes Back -

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Good evening. I'm Virginia

Haussegger. In news tonight, the

Federal Opposition leader Kevin Rudd

has been humiliated into explaining

why he held a series of meetings

disgraced former WA. Premier Brian why he held a series of meetings with

Burke the Government today launched

withering assault on Mr Rudd, with Burke the Government today launched a

Treasurer Peter Costello calling him

morally and politically compromised.

The damage estimate from Tuesday's

storm in Canberra has been revised

up, with more buildings water-logged

than first feared. At the ANU, 80

buildings were damaged - 60 of them

seriously. The irony is Canberra's

still officially in drought.

Australian troops are poised to lead

an assault on the rebel Timorese

soldier Alfredo Renaido. Angered by

the Renaido gang's theft of weapons

from a police post at the weekend,

East Timor has asked Australia to

help capture the rebel leader. Major

Renaido has vowed to resist arrest.

Leading Australian jockey Chris

has been jailed in Hong Kong for his Leading Australian jockey Chris Munce

involvement in a betting scandal.

Melbourne Cup-winning jockey was involvement in a betting scandal. The

found guilty of trading racing tips

for cash and now faces 2.5 years

behind bars. And Canberra's weather

the chance of rain and a behind bars. And Canberra's weather -

tonight. Mostly sunny tomorrow, a the chance of rain and a thunderstorm

of 29. Sydney, 26, Melbourne, 30, tonight. Mostly sunny tomorrow, a top

Adelaide, 37. More news in an hour.

Good evening, I'm virginia

... In news Good evening, I'm virginia haussegger

This program is not subtitled striking at random, It stalks the planet, millions of times each day. often people are struck by lightning. We simply do not appreciate how than the surface of the sun, Five times hotter can be to live through hell. to survive a strike felt like I was just on fire. Just from the inside out, it just

its equally sinister hidden effects. Science is just beginning to uncover rockets up to catch lightning. We DO mess with it. We do send lightning's secrets, And, as scientists probe it's getting worse. they are discovering

over 8 million times each day. Lightning strikes our planet biggest killers. It's one of nature's

and spontaneous. Every strike is random Kennedy Space Centre, Florida. America's gateway to outer space. It was here, 35 years ago,

destructive lightning can be. that NASA found out just how of the United States. Florida is the lightning capital in the middle of Lightning Alley. And NASA's launch facility sits Kennedy Space Centre gets struck per year. about 40 times per square mile,

Space Centre was chosen, When the location of the were little understood. the dangers that lightning presents with just a few puffy cumulus, We can go from a sky lightning striking within 45 minutes. to a major thunder storm with over the Florida Peninsula, As they develop and roll in

quantities of raw electricity. these storms generate huge that have very sensitive electronics We have many launch vehicles and currents near them. that do not like high voltages November 14th, 1969. moon mission. The launch of the Apollo 12 It had been a stormy day. that should throw them off schedule. But NASA officials didn't see why to blastoff. The countdown proceeded as normal Your trajectory and good to go. the crew got an unexpected shock. Moments later, drop out. We're hit by lightning!' 'What happened? We had everything a fairly weak electric field Apollo went up through what was field as it went up through it. and actually magnified that electric These photographs show the result. By magnifying the electric field, its own bolt of lightning. Apollo 12 triggered computer saved the crew. Only quick thinking and a backup It almost shut Apollo down. lots of redundant systems It was only because they had very close to losing the astronauts. that they were able to escape. It was Apollo 12's was a very close escape. But not everyone else is so lucky. of lightning stays in the cloud, Despite the fact that 80% spectacular sheet lightning, can have devastating consequences. the 20% that makes it to ground when ice particles collide. Lightning is friction generated carry a tremendous charge. And the bolts that come to earth equivalent to a small atomic bomb. A thunderstorm has the energy into lightning. Some of that gets transferred it looks for the most direct route. When lightning heads for ground, is an ideal conductor. Sap beneath the bark of a tree Lightning strikes trees constantly. and it can vaporise any material, If it gets inside things, the pressure can blow things apart. it blows them to pieces. and sometimes That's why the bark gets blown off are permanently scarred as a result. Those trees that do survive At 28,000 degrees centigrade, than the surface of the sun, five times hotter its mark on everything it touches. it's hardly surprising it leaves as formations called fulgurites. It can even turn sand to glass This is an example of a fulgurite. as the lightning channel in the air. It's about the same diameter card, left behind in sandy soil Fulgurites are lightning's calling when a strike continues underground. heats the sand and melts it. What happens is the lightning It cools down into a fulgurite. They have a sort of glassy inside. Most fulgurites are hollow. that glass is made of. The sand is basically the same stuff which was 17 feet long, We dug up one fulgurite with a 15 foot branch the other side. and vaporises the sap of a tree, If lightning turns sand to glass on the human body, what effect does it have which is composed of 75% water? struck by lightning manage to live. Apparently about half the people blow a person apart, would get inside and vaporise, You'd think a lightning current but it doesn't happen that way. with a conductive material, By coating a mannequin can be graphically illustrated. lightning's effect that will best conduct it to ground. Lightning naturally follows the path In the case of a human being... of perspiration that coats the body. that path is the thin layer

ELECTRIC BUZZ Instead of blowing the body apart, lightning flows across its surface. With current averaging 30,000 amps, it creates are severe. the burn marks and trauma

likely to be struck in the US Statistics show that you are most in July in the state of Florida. if you are playing golf on a Sunday ground every year in the US alone. There are 20 million strikes to natural killers. It is one of their biggest are killed and 1,000 injured On average, 100 people a year by lightning. I was getting out of the cart and thought I heard a rumble. I said, "Is it thundering?" and the kids said, "No, look at the sky."

Shirley Jacobs and her husband Chuck were playing golf when she was struck by lightning from a storm 10 miles away. Out of the blue it came. I felt nothing, heard nothing, saw nothing. All of a sudden there was this big flash of light and a crack. And I looked over and Shirley was face down on the ground. I knew she was hit by lightning but I didn't know if she was alive. Though golfers are often lightning victims in the US, nowhere outdoors is safe. If you can hear thunder, you're already within striking distance. There wasn't a big storm surge or anything. Garry Rudd was struck while working as a ranger in the Colorado hills.

I picked up the backpack with one hand and went for the pitchfork. The lights went out. Where I lay, the grass was totally burned. The whole length of my body, it was burned. I felt as though I was completely on fire. I didn't see any fire or smoke or anything but from the inside out I just felt like I was just on fire. Dr Mary Ann Cooper has made the study of lightning injury her speciality. It's a subject little understood. One of the things that we see with the burns that occur, they're not caused by lightning so much as what lightning is doing on the surface of the body. Turning the rainwater or sweat into steam and then that causes a burn. With a T-shirt on, steam can escape. But if you've got a leather jacket, it will hold the steam in longer, you'll end up with a deeper burn. One of the things we see when sweat or rainwater is turned to steam is a tremendous expansion. Shoes can actually be blown off, because you have wet, sweaty socks, that turns into a vapour explosion that can blow the shoe apart. A strike can also leave behind temporary, lightning-like tattoos on the skin. Any object in contact with the body can cause further injury. When I was struck I wore a necklace. The gold of the necklace melted. I've still got scars there, which I'll always have. This little shoe that I had on was stuck up under my chin. When they were taking X-rays, somebody found it stuck on me. It takes 1,800 degrees to melt gold. My necklace was gone! The lightning connected with a rivet on Garry Rudd's jeans.

When the lightning went down my leg, it passed internally I suppose. And it blew out through the instep of my foot. There was a bunch of burns on there and all across my chest there was a bunch of little dots. Pencil-point dots, some bigger. Apparently it hit the pitchfork and blew it into smithereens. Later on we gathered it all up, laid it out and took some pictures. Pieces of it had stuck into the side of my face and later, in the hospital, some were starting to erupt on my chest a bit. But one of the pieces, this piece, had gone clean through my hand. It came out through the palm.

Physical injuries you can treat, but for a strike victim, visible wounds are just the start. It's the unseen effects that cause long-term suffering, ranging from depression, headaches, to memory loss and sleep disorders. I was diagnosed with narcolepsy. Sometimes as much as three hours, I couldn't account for in a day.

Afterwards, I was emotionally sick. I cried a lot. I cried when I ate, I cried when I went to bed and I don't know why I cried. I think that one of the things that bothered me more than anything, was that nobody knew. I looked OK. They didn't know how I felt. People say, "You look fine!" But I didn't feel fine. University of Illinois Medical Centre, Chicago - home to groundbreaking research into the hidden effects of a lightning strike on the human body. Russ Francis was struck when a lightning bolt hit a telephone line he was repairing. The noise was the loudest I heard. I had no hearing at all out of my right ear. I had no feeling at all In my right side. My head felt like it was going to blow off. The headache was just unbelievable. Russ has volunteered to be a guinea pig in cutting-edge studies being carried out by Mary Ann Cooper. It's very difficult for survivors of lightning to live with this. Because often they look the same, but may not be functioning the same.

It's like booting up a computer that's been injured by lightning. The outside of the computer looks OK. The boards inside it look OK. But when you process those files, they don't connect like they did. Just like a PC, the human body relies on millions of electrical impulses per second to function. So it follows that the power surge caused by the blast of a bolt could have potentially devastating consequences. I was off work for three and a half years. The first two years, I slept 20 to 22 hours a day. It was just like they'd pulled the plug out. Bad co-ordination, fatigue, violent headaches. Russ, along with the majority of lightning victims, insists that something in him changed at the moment of the strike. Without evidence, it's been hard for Russ to convince his doubters. Now he's willing to undergo tests in an attempt to prove it. State-of-the-art MRI technology is helping science to examine the inner workings of the brain as never before. The brain is scanned for any physical injury. Then a series of co-ordination tasks test for any subtle abnormality in the way the brain functions. Russ, can you hear me OK? Yes, fine. OK, great. Russ must read questions projected before him and respond correctly, using a thumb switch he's holding in his right hand. All the while, his eyes are monitored to ensure he remains alert and responsive. I can see that the pupil area here, that his eye is fixating, not moving. You can see the pupil area there. Then when a question comes up, you'll see him start to read it.

We can see him scanning that. The question and the answer. Then he'll provide the response. OK, Russ, we're going to go ahead and start the first movie. This is the one where you respond yes or no with the hand switch. You'll see a statement and question about the statement. Answer as quickly as possible. OK? OK. Here we go. This will be about eight and a half minutes. I'm just monitoring the patient. Right here we have two responses for the hand switch that he has. He answered "no" on that question. Next question comes up. I'm just making sure the patient is responding - checking he's seeing everything, watching his eye to make sure that he's not moving and also making sure our images are actually saving in the database. You can see the images - we're already up to 16,000 images. The procedure takes 20 minutes, recording every electrical impulse within Russ's brain. If lightning has in any way affected these impulses, analysis of the scan will reveal it. OK, Russ, I'm coming to get you. Just hold nice and still. Mary Ann Cooper studies the results with Dr Keith Thulborn, a specialist in MRI brain scans. He's had problems with headaches, dizziness, cognitive problems, some memory deficits and a lot of dizziness. Physically, nothing seems to be out of the ordinary. There's no evidence here of damage to any of this tissue. There are a lot of slices here. We can go through all of them. But you can see there's no evidence of any disruption of white matter. The other thing is - did he complain of memory problems? Yes. OK, you'd have to be concerned about the hippocampal areas, which is this area in here. This is completely normal. So, anatomically, this brain is completely normal. And for this age, it's a well-preserved brain. So what we're bringing up now is the behavioural data - physiology, when he's answering questions. When they examine the electrical functions of the brain, however, highlighted as coloured areas on the scan, Thulborn is surprised. My initial response when I first looked at this was it was going to be normal. Now I examine it in more detail, this is not a normal pattern. Russ is right-handed. If his brain were functioning normally, it would be the left side where you'd expect to see activity as he uses the thumb switch. This is actually quite dramatic. A completely normal person functionally who is right-handed, the activity would be in the left hemisphere. And you can see his activity is in the right hemisphere. Amazing. Something happened to redistribute the brain's electrical functions, without leaving any physical damage, unlike other brain injuries. We have examples of this in strokes and in brain tumours. This is the first time we've seen this with an electrical injury. You don't see the anatomic abnormality that caused it to move, and without the history, I wouldn't have an explanation. So even though the brain is normal, something changed here. Mary Ann Cooper's research is in its early stages but Russ's scan is compelling evidence, suggesting lightning's long-term debilitating effects. People have serious injuries but they look the same on the outside. So it's very difficult for others to understand they may be different on the inside because their electrical systems are modified in some way. We're still at the beginnings of trying to define how that occurs. We know it occurs from the symptoms because people have similar stories. They actually could see something that had happened - it wasn't just me complaining about things and them looking at the regular imaging they'd taken before and say, "There's nothing wrong with you!" They finally did see something! Having survived to live with the consequences of a direct face-off with lightning, Russ Francis' advice is unequivocal. It's real easy - if you hear it, fear it. If you see it, flee it. With its effects so profound, the race is now on for science to try to understand lightning, if we're ever to be protected. That means going out and looking for it. I remember the first time I took my wife storm-chasing, I told her that we were perfectly safe where we were. All of a sudden, out of the front side of the storm, this brilliant intense bolt struck about 100 yards away from us. She never went storm-chasing with me again! Scott Steiger is a meteorologist specialising in lightning studies. Together with Dave Gold, he uses internet weather information to track active storms. I chase thunderstorms but I definitely respect the lightning, and know how lethal it is and how unpredictable it can be. The vast plains of Texas generate some of the most powerful and violent thunderstorms in the northern hemisphere. The definition of a thunderstorm is you have to have lightning in it. The first step to that is to get a cloud go above freezing level. So you have a mixture of water, ice, super-cooled water. Those are the necessary ingredients for electrification of a storm. The ice these storms generate within the cloud produces hailstones so large they can be life-threatening in their own right. The biggest of these storms, known as supercells, are vast. Measuring tens of miles across and miles deep, they produce every type of lightning imaginable.

The thing that fascinates me most are supercell thunderstorms. They tend to last a long time because they've got a persistent rotating updraft.

The most violent supercells often produce the spectacular lightning. You'll see this almost constant, staccato, nonstop, intra-cloud lightning display, where you have bolts sparking horizontally and bolts from the side of the cloud to the ground Every type of lightning display you can imagine goes on in them and you'll just see these long, horizontal streamers of lightning, arcing over your head across the sky. Supercell light shows are in fact a distribution of many millions of volts of electricity from cloud to cloud and cloud to ground. Thunder is a sonic boom created as the air explodes in the lightning channel's path. In the early 1970s, NASA scientists took chasing storms to a whole new level. Jets were sent into the heart of active thunderstorms to deliberately bait lightning and monitor its effect on aircraft. I was to fly into the storm and get hit by lightning as much as possible. Nothing so drastic had ever been done before. The crews that manned the aircraft were flying into the unknown. As well as lightning, test crews had to contend with the blizzards of ice that make up a thunderstorm. Hail beyond a certain size would collapse the windscreen and probably be a fatal situation. But the real hunt was for lightning and they weren't to be disappointed. Whilst on-board sensors captured data, on-board cameras recorded the results, to spectacular effect. This is the heaviest turbulence I've flown in in three years. Good strike! OK, a large flash just to the right.

Good one! Direct strike to the aircraft. It was a nose strike. You'd see in front of you this huge bright streamer attached to the nose. It would skip aft on the aeroplane and you'd see it sweep past you, skipping from point to point. When you flew past it, then the channel would detach. It feels like a giant has slapped the aeroplane. The floor ripples under your feet, you can hear the thunderclap even with earplugs, a military helmet, plastic material in your canopy. and three-quarter-inch thick aeroplane under control conditions... My experience in flying a protected

by lightning has convinced me into storms to try to get struck to avoid the lightning environment. I'm going to do everything I can that in my own business aeroplane, protection for modern aircraft. These flights helped to develop It's just as well. at Hong Kong airport testifies, As this amateur video shot than we think. a mid-air encounter with lightning all of us may have been closer to On average, once a year by lightning. every commercial airliner is struck NASA test flights through storms were just the beginning of science's attempts to understand lightning's properties and destructive potential. Camp Blanding is a remote military facility 200 miles north of Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. Here, under the guidance of Martin Uman, researchers are provoking lightning by deliberately launching rockets into the path of active storms. You can't just launch rockets, you have to have air traffic control. So it's a perfect facility in terms of security and of air space. We have a very fruitful co-operation with Camp Blanding military. protection problems. We help them with their lightning Blanding on the scientific map! Actually, we put the word Camp characteristics of lightning Martin's team measure the precise its full range of effects. in order to predict It's dangerous work,

trailing copper wire achieved by firing rockets to trigger a strike. from a launch tower initiated from natural thunderstorms. Triggered lightning is artificially to strike tall buildings. thunderstorms, lightning likes It's well known that, during And it strikes tall buildings strikes the top of our trigger wire. in exactly the same way that it have put a tall building under it. Basically, the cloud thinks that we Which is amazing, And it does its thing. charges up there, because if you think the cloud six, seven, eight, nine kilometres above ground,

and we're only putting this wire up 300 metres or so. Ready? Yes!

By monitoring the build-up of the electric field generated by the storm overhead, the team gauges the best moment to launch. Green to control. Permission to go at 21.17. 'Copy that.' creates a lightning strike. through this electric field Firing a rocket firing pretty quickly, over. You guys ready? We're going to be Rob, the fields are approaching -4. 'Copy that.' -6. -6. We're starting countdown. Five, four, three, two, one. Fire. Do not try this at home. BANGING Woo! The fields are at -4. You guys ready? Yes. back to the launch platform, the route of the trailing wire As each lightning bolt follows are captured by an array of sensors. its effects and characteristics four, three, two, one. Fire! Starting countdown. Five, is left untested. No potential hazard are to strike the explosive material Exotic things we've done in the past a plane and got struck by lightning, make sure that if a bomb fell out of that surrounds nuclear weapons to that lightning couldn't set off a nuclear weapon. Recent tests have confirmed a frightening aspect of lightning. Sharing Newman's facilities is Joseph Dwyer of the Florida Institute of Technology.

What his equipment has revealed is totally unexpected. but it emits very intense X-rays. Not only does lightning emit X-rays, It does it almost all the time. in protective boxes - Sensors are housed in order to obtain clear readings. electrical interference from storms foil reflectors blocking out all the

the intensity, Our X-ray instruments can measure the timing, the energy of X-rays. These X-rays are the kind of X-rays that you would find at a dentist's office or your doctor's office. Joseph Dwyer's research has revealed more. X-rays aren't the only form of radiation generated by active storms. We found, to our surprise, a huge burst of gamma rays coming down from the overhead thunder clouds, several kilometres up. The implication is that the entire terrain around us is being washed with gamma rays. Gamma rays are a particularly harmful form of radiation and can cause cancer. With all this radiation as a direct product of lightning, just how dangerous is it, especially to those who have survived a lightning strike? The question is, what dose would someone receive if they're struck by lightning or close to lightning when it strikes? between 5m and 20m. Our measurements are made from significant, So far, the doses do not seem to be the lightning channel. measurements underneath but we have not yet made direct of lightning-strike victims. could have an impact upon the health If the doses are indeed large, that is revealing itself to be. dramatic and powerful lightning The more scientists look, the more this light show They're discovering the scale of imagined, is far bigger than anyone had reaching high above the clouds. activity above thunderstorms. no clue that there was electrical 15 years ago, we meteorologists had called the ignorosphere, 50km above the ground. It's sometimes It's a very difficult place to work, for exactly that reason. get there from here. It's been ignored because you can't gives him a grandstand view the location of his house Fortunately for Walt Lyons, lightning phenomenon. of a stunning and rarely-seen we have generally clear skies. At night-time here in Colorado, prairies to our east, afternoon have rolled off into the The thunderstorms that we had in the Gulf of Mexico, stream of moisture coming up from the where they suddenly get caught in the huge electrical displays going on and then they explode, so there's about 200-300km to our east. storms, point the cameras right up above the We have nice clear skies, we can just in a barrel. and it's like shooting fish nightscopes the military uses, low-light cameras, sort of like the There are video cameras called camera that we use. light, and that's exactly the type of which does amplify the existing more than your car, These little cameras probably cost in the night sky. but they can see all sorts of things cameras, Once Walt Lyons has set up the and an active storm. all he can do is wait for nightfall observation room The cameras are patched into an signs of electrical activity. low-band radio waves - the tell-tale that also allows the monitoring of He's trying to record the elusive know as "sprites". electrical activity of the storms, but patience can be its own reward. Stalking his quarry takes hours Sprite! 0525, 40 seconds. of electricity Sprites are immense discharges immediately above storms. that form in the atmosphere

back-of-the-envelope calculations sprites, we did some When we first started seeing the is the width of your thumb - A lightning bolt and realised they're huge. it might be five miles high. from 50km high and 100km across. But the sprites can be anywhere illuminated by this network of the middle atmosphere are being Tens of thousands of cubic kilometres of electricity. of fine stream-like discharges an even bigger surprise. But lightning was to give scientists had they discovered gigantic jets. Only in the last few years thunderstorm, venting from the top of a These plumes of electrical activity Taiwan, photographed by the University of are 15 miles high. you learn, the more questions arise, Any scientific endeavour, the more there's a whole class sprite research we've realised and certainly as a result of the of giant powerful lightning strikes might exist before. that we only guessed other creatures of the zoo up there The discovery of sprites and all the don't have the full picture yet. have made us realise that we simply of lightning's great mysteries. At last, scientists had solved one across the entire planet, how lightning distributes energy Jets and sprites showed them circuit. creating a global electrical in a class of its own, was a natural phenomenon Now, they knew lightning of the planet itself. integral to the workings on the planet is so profound It turns out that lightning's effect that its overwhelming power has been used not just to decimate life, but to create it, too. Lightning certainly needs to be respected -

it kills people, starts fires - but it also does a lot of good things. Originally, it might have made the chemicals that life grew from, and it certainly made the original fertiliser out of the nitrogen in the air that plants grew in. Lightning can be a life giver as much as a serial killer. Before we knew better, forest fires were seen as just another example of lightning's destructive power. Until, that is, botanists discovered that many plant species rely on lightning to propagate. The seeds of many forest trees and plants are only released when subjected to the intense heat of a forest fire. William Borucki is a NASA scientist specialising in planetary formation. He's discovered that lightning has long played a fundamental role in sustaining life. It is, basically, one of the most important aspects of nature processes. We're looking at this forest around us - it's dead. It's been killed. The fire has burned it. Lightning starts a lot of these fires, and certainly it's been around for hundred of millions of years, burning forests, so it can kill. But in reality, much of what lightning does is take the molecules in the air, split them apart - the nitrogen in particular - and make that nitrogen, which is unavailable to plants, available to plants. It can now use it. Ultimately, that's going to become the fertiliser the plants are going to use to live, to reproduce. Lightning is a sustaining force in nature. But aiding the growth of plants is only one positive aspect of lightning. It may have been instrumental in creating the very building blocks of all life on Earth. Today, at 4.5 billion years old, the Earth has settled into a comfortable middle age. Things were very different when the planet was a tumultuous infant.

The early planet was quite different than the planet today. Hydrogen, cyanide, lots of methane... Lots of other gases that aren't available today - what we would call poisonous gases from comets coming in. And those meteors, those comets, produce a lot of particular matter

that tends to cause water vapour to condense into droplets. It's the droplets that cause the lightning. It was probably a very dramatic time, leading to very extensive lightning activity. Such overwhelming electrical activity introduced to the planets primordial soup could well have contributed to the spark of life. We know from lab measurements that lightning makes amino acids. It makes some of the fundamental pieces of life, so it could very well have been one of the processes that evolved life, that helped start life. Scientists now realise that lightning is fundamental to the workings of our planet. It's too big a phenomenon to hope to tame. NASA's towering launch installations are almost as vulnerable to lightning strikes

as they were 35 years ago. Our workers are working here 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They're moving explosives, they're on high towers, they're hoisting payloads, and they're all exposed. There is now some basic protection. Should a pad be struck, lightning masts are in place to take the hit and channel the strike to ground along insulating wire, earthing the strike.

But by far our best hope of avoiding lightning's destructive power is to see it coming. So, NASA has pioneered the science of lightning detection. By using NASA's groundbreaking technology, the 45th Weather Squadron are the Cape's guardian angels. On their recommendation, NASA will abort a launch, at the cost of tens of millions of dollars.

Good afternoon, everyone, thanks for showing up. We'll go round everybody and make sure we're ready to go for this afternoon's launch. We'll start off with the duty forecaster. From a weather perspective, lightning is our enemy. We're here to protect all the people working on the Cape from lightning. Currently, we're good. Visibility is unrestricted, winds are out of the east, but later on, the possibility for warning for lightning and thunderstorms to move in. We have our own weather surveillance radar, which allows us to see thunderstorms building, their development,

and as they move in, we can see the movement and strength of the actual thunderstorm. Throughout the countdown to a launch, the Weather Squadron is in constant contact with mission control, keeping them updated on any shifts in the volatile weather patterns around the Cape. Seating the crew in the shuttle is just the beginning of a process that takes hours. Storms, on the other hand, can develop from nowhere in as little as 30 minutes. Sergeant, I think we need to look at this convective weather right here. It's becoming very significant. As a storm approaches the Cape, we're watching the clouds develop, the thunderstorms develop, and we're also seeing the lightning associated with those storms as they move in. We have a lot of lightning discharging going on right now on the lightning detecting and ranging system. Our forecasters continue to monitor the systems, and once the thunderstorms move within a certain threshold, we start to take action. Let's inform them that we're going to be issuing a lightning warning. We're going to be red within the next 10, 15 minutes. OK. That's good. As a mature storm continues to threaten, the Squadron goes to alert. This is LWO with the launch weather briefing. Current conditions, we do have thunderstorms up to the north-west that are approaching our area. If lightning activity closes to within nautical miles of the rocket's projected flight-path, the launch will be scrubbed. We're issuing a phase-two lightning warning for all areas of Kennedy Space Centre. Lightning is occurring or is imminent. Take protective actions immediately. During a launch, we're looking at a vehicle exposed on the launch pad for many, many hours, and it's our mission and our job to ensure that it is properly protected. Even though it means aborting launches, the lightning detector system used by the squadron is NASA's best protection.

Seeing a storm before it's happened means exposing every single cloud to extraordinary scrutiny. Each is mapped, tracked, and even sliced open on a computer screen to measure the changes in electrical charge that signal lightning is brewing. That's called a vertical cross-section. It's a very important part of our interrogation of convective... It cuts open the cloud so that we can look inside of it and see how strong it is vertically, and whether it can produce lightning or not. This is a very important display right here, and you can see this line is where I cut through it. I can turn that line this way... and get a different look. There it is. It's called a vertical cross-section. And the latest technology goes further still. A new radar system called LDAR measures the build-up of electrical activity in a storm cloud in detail that could not have been imagined just a few years ago. On this system of LDAR, we've taken a real leap forward in lightning forecasting, in that we can see the lightning and the discharging within cumulus clouds at the first moment that it happens. It effectively renders the cloud transparent. Every black fleck on the screen is a single spark of electricity, and millions are produced each second. This black swarm of electrical activity signals that lightning bolts are being generated, but why and how is still a mystery. We're at the stage now of having the tools to understand how lightning gets started in the cloud. There are various kinds of radars that can see electric fields by virtue of the shape of raindrops and things like that are all coming together and we are pretty soon going to be able to get a picture of what goes on in the cloud and how lightning is produced. Despite all this technology, lightning hasn't revealed its most basic secret - how a bolt is generated in the first place. We agree on some basic principles. It's an updraft. It's colder than freezing. There's probably some small hail, or graupel as we call it, involved. Beyond that it does begin to become less and less clear. Ron Holle is a meteorologist,

specialising in lightning activity across the US and Canada. We run the cloud-to-ground lightning detection network for North America and in the US, for example, in a typical year, we detect with this system about 25 million cloud-to-ground flashes. As we see the data coming in from the ground strike network and also from things like LDAR we just really have to wonder how in the world these things are happening. Across the globe, lightning detection technology is tracking every single lightning strike to ground. Patterns are beginning to emerge. With lightning's behaviour under such close scrutiny, experts have stumbled upon an unnerving, and potentially frightening, realisation.

Lightning activity may be increasing. Houston, Texas - one of the biggest cities in the USA, and one of the most lightning prone. Research here is looking at something very disturbing. Lightning activity seems to be increasing over urban areas. Meteorlogist Scott Steiger is collaborating with his teacher and mentor, Richard Orville. They are finding that Houston is creating a heat island. As the sun bakes concrete and tarmac, hot air is then funnelled upwards as a so-called "updraft". Heat affects the urban areas because heat is the source of updrafts and updrafts form clouds and clouds form rain over the cities. As the heat pulls in more clouds, that creates more thunder storms. Upward motion enhances cloud development over the city and can lead to the development of more thunderstorms over the city. The discovery of more lightning over Houston came about from my class, from my students. Scott was one of those students and I had the students select 15 cities in the south of the US and study the lightning activity over those cities. We knew that Tampa, Florida was the lightning capital of the US, but we also discovered that Houston is the lightning capital of Texas. Using the lightning detection network,

Ron Holle is able to corroborate Orville and Steiger's observations. This is a four-hour period in a storm over the Houston area along the coast and in this region the storms are developing to the southwest and moving to the northeast. Houston is right in this area so the storm went directly across Houston and at the end of the cycle there are 16, 175 cloud-to-ground flashes.

This has disturbing implications for cities that are heat islands worldwide. As the cities all around the world have grown larger and larger an urban heat island is being developed. An urban climate in the context of lightning is one where the city is warmer than the surroundings and will influence the development or intensity of existing storms. The thinking is that this warming will then affect storms that were already over the city. A storm that's already there may grow a little stronger and last a little longer. But Orville and Steiger have found there's more lightning over Houston than can be explained by the heat island effect alone. Typically urban areas have more pollution than rural areas because there's more traffic, cars spewing out pollutants, but also there's large industries around cities that also will release pollutants. An increase in the pollution in the air can enhance electrical activity in storms so that's one of our ideas regarding the cause of the lightning. So could pollution account for Houston's high level of lightning? Thousands of miles from Texas, a team at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology are investigating just that. Their experiments are being carried out by a man with a steam machine. Our research involves simulating thunder-storm processes using the cold room in which we grow ice crystals, simulate hailstones and get the two to bump into each other and during that brief contact, electric charge is transferred. Simulating the conditions inside storm clouds, the team adds a new ingredient - pollution. Clouds form when water droplets condense on small dust particles and of course in more polluted areas there are more dust particles so you get more small water droplets. By creating cloud-like conditions in a cold room and using duct-tape, plastic tubing and vacuum cleaner, they are forcing science to reassess human impact on lightning production. This is an amplifier and a metal rod which is a simulated hailstone

in the sense that it collects ice, ice layers, just as a hailstone would as it falls through a thunder cloud. The amplifier is used to detect the charge transferred when ice crystals interact and collide with the simulated hailstone. First, the team release steam into the cold chamber to be super-cooled,

just like it would be in a real storm cloud. We found in the studies we've done that if we deliberately pollute the water droplets - say, with sodium chloride or ammonium sulphate for example - when the ice crystals bounce into the hailstones and separate charge, the sign of the charge is influenced by the pollution in the droplets. This leads to the effect of getting a very large electrification

and, in some circumstances, massive lightning. A vacuum cleaner pulls the polluted ice crystals past their simulated hailstone. Then they measure the electrical discharge created as the ice particles collide. The results that Clive Saunders and his team are getting are disturbing. They suggest human pollution really is creating stronger lightning.

We think that lightning will be controlled by the amount of pollution in the atmosphere, simply because it controls the small water droplets, which influences the charge transfer so there's a real correlation there. Over the next few years, Orville and Steiger's sensors lightning over the skies of Houston. will capture every aspect of way beyond Texas. The results could have implications

the lightning's going to affect us, weather, and enhancing the lightning If we're enhancing or affecting the It's a cycle between us and nature. so it does have an effect. and spread unchecked, If pollutants increase that is affected. activity over our major cities it may not just be the lightning the most powerful law of physics Probably of unintended consequences. is the law of many of our actions. We rarely appreciate the full impact Any chemicals you put in the cloud obviously will change the cloud some. The question is, will it change it enough to change the characteristics, the kind, the amount of lightning? The answer seems to be yes. Lightning remains a rogue force of nature - random and uncontrollable. Despite science's best efforts, much of its cause and effect remain a mystery. Lightning is wild. It's furious. It's looking for something. Go in the building. Get in your car. Just don't stay outside where you can be a victim. to the workings of our planet. Lightning is fundamental We aggravate it at our peril. BBC Broadcast 2004 Subtitles by Subtitling Unit

E-mail us at subtitling@bbc.co.uk

CC

Good evening. Labor's Kevin Rudd has

had his worst day since becoming

Federal Opposition Leader. Mr Rudd

came under sustained attack in

Federal Parliament over meetings

the former West Australian premier Federal Parliament over meetings with

Brian Burke. Mr Rudd met the

disgraced lobbyist three times in

2005. He says he talked about

politics, not business and he says 2005. He says he talked about general

hindsight he shouldn't have met him. politics, not business and he says in

Mr Burke's activities are the

Mr Burke's activities are the subject of a corruption inquiry in Western

Australia. The proposed take-over of

Qantas has cleared another hurdle with Australia's competition

with Australia's competition watchdog saying it won't oppose the sale. The

Australian competition and Consumer

Commission decided that a buyout by

Commission decided that a buyout by a private equity consortium. Led by

Macquarie Bank is unlikely to reduce

competition. The consortium has

offered around $11 billion for the

deal, but the Federal Treasurer

still block it on the grounds of deal, but the Federal Treasurer could

national interest. And Australian

jockey Chris Munce has been

to 30 months in jail in Hong Kong jockey Chris Munce has been sentenced

trading tips in return for bets. The to 30 months in jail in Hong Kong for

judge handed down the harsher than

expected sentence saying Munce had

abused the trust of trainers and

harmed the integrity of racing in

Hong Kong. The 37-year-old was

arrested last July carrying $40,000

and a piece of paper with betting

notes. Now, tomorrow's national

weather - Storms for Darwin,

and Sydney, a morning shower in weather - Storms for Darwin, Brisbane

Perth, but mainly fine in the other

capital cities. More news

EERIE MUSIC CROWD HUBBUB IN BACKGROUND (Speaks German) CROWD CHEERS During World War II, one man waged a secret and sinister war