They say lightning never strikes the same place twice. The Space Needle begs to differ.
It sure was quite the show in the city Tuesday night as a strong convergence zone rolled over Downtown Seattle, making for a spectacular lightning show.
Our tower camera atop Queen Anne Hill captured three distinct lightning bolts that hit the Space Needle within a few minutes:
The Needle is well prepared for it, as it is equipped with 24 lighting rods around the top, not counting the tip of the Needle itself. Those rods safely channel the energy into the ground and there's really no danger to being on the Needle during a thunderstorm.
Another building that can sympathize is New York's Empire State Building, which gets hit about 100 times every year. It's actually designed to try and attract lightning to keep it away from the city's other skyscrapers (with what? Coupons? :) )
Actually, by using tall rods atop the building, it does attract lightning as electricity likes to take the easiest path (known as the path of least resistance) and many times, that is also the shortest distance.
It's not quite that simple that tall objects attract lightning solely on the basis that they are closest to the clouds, because the shape of the object also factors into how the electric charge builds up. But suffice to say, tall, pointy objects do a good job of attracting lightning. (Here is more information on how lightning forms.)
The Space Needle has a bit of an added advantage (penalty?) that it's a good mile or so from the cluster of Seattle's downtown skyscrapers, so it doesn't have as much competition in attracting lightning. (Perhaps the three TV towers atop Queen Anne Hill provide a little bit of lightning enticement.)
I have a call into the Space Needle representatitves to see if they know just how often lightning strikes the Needle a year. I'm guessing it's probably 5-10 times at most just because lightning is pretty rare around here. But Mother Nature did put on a similar awe-inspiring show in 2006:
Here are some other shots from the May 19 storm:
And here are some from KOMO's tower camera: