Breakdown: Why lightning is good for agriculture

Updated: May. 28, 2021 at 1:16 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) -With the warmer weather, it’s time to get those plants and flowers in the ground, and the chance for thunderstorms could provide a botanical boost in more ways than one.

Of course, the rain provides a key ingredient for plants and flowers, but lightning, though extremely dangerous (obviously), can actually help your lawn stay healthy, too.

While lightning is often associated with extreme weather, have you ever noticed that your lawn and garden becomes greener and more lush in weeks following a thunderstorm?

That’s because of the chemistry in the air happening above us.

Nitrogen is the most abundant element in the atmosphere. In fact, the air that we breathe is about 78% nitrogen (and only about 21% oxygen).

Plants require nitrogen to grow. However, they’re unable to process the nitrogen in the air.

A nitrogen molecule in the air consists of two atoms which are held together very tightly. In order for plants to absorb nitrogen, the two atoms must be separated. But, it takes an enormous blast of energy to break apart those nitrogen molecules and convert them to a compound that plants can use.

That’s where lightning comes into play.

As lightning blasts through the atmosphere, it breaks apart nitrogen molecules. This allows them to combine with oxygen in the air to form nitrogen oxides. The rain dissolves these into nitrates, then carries them to Earth and into the soil. Nitrates are considered a “super fertilizer.” So, in addition to providing a spectacular light show, lightning also helps fertilize the soil and plants green up faster.

Diagram of nitrogen cycle
Diagram of nitrogen cycle(WMC)

Now, one or two thunder storms a summer doesn’t make much of a difference, but when they are occurring every day for weeks on end then it is especially beneficial in areas that are prime for agriculture. A healthy soil is key to a good crop yield, and nitrogen is key to healthy soil.

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