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Celestial bowling…

Has there ever been a late summer period with so much thunder and lighting that produces so little rain?

Late July and August are historically hot and dry (2009’s daily gullywashers a memorable exception), with only the occasional meandering thunderstorm, which may last just a few minutes and produce only a spattering of rain.

For weeks now, we’ve had almost daily episodes of dark clouds and thunder and lightning that can go on for hours. A few days ago, it lasted virtually all afternoon — spectacular, jagged streaks of lightning and almost continuous rolling thunder, with the occasional ear-splitting, window-rattling clap. And not a drop of rain.

It was, to quote the bard, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Even the few times these thunder-boomers actually produced rain, it was hardly enough to settle the dust.

Weather gurus say some 77 million lightning bolts strike the U.S. each year. Among areas with the greatest concentration, Florida ranks at the top, but most of the Mississippi Valley and Southeast have high numbers of strikes. Worldwide, the greatest lightning activity is in the Democratic Republic of Congo in central Africa, the least in Antarctica and over the Arctic Ocean.

A study by Texas A&M University researcher Renyi Zhang, analyzing U.S. lightning strikes over a five-year period, found that lightning can generate as much as 90 percent of nitrogen oxides during the summer and boost ozone levels in the free troposphere by as much as 30 percent.

While ozone is a component of smog (not good for human breathing), the intense heat from a lightning bolt forces nitrogen in the air to bond with oxygen, producing nitrogen oxides, which eventually settle out of the air or fall to earth with rain (good for plant life).

Children frightened by thunder have often been told by their parents, “Oh, it’s just the noise from God’s bowling alley.”

In which case, there must be quite a tournament going on this summer.

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