Lightning Strikes Twice: Empire State Building Video Goes Viral

YouTube video shows lightning striking Empire State Building 3 times in a row.

ByKi Mae Heussner
April 14, 2011, 11:23 AM

April 14, 2011— -- They say lightning may not strike twice, but an electrifying YouTube video making the rounds online shows New York's Empire State Building taking not just one, not two, but three, hits... in a row.

During the raucous thunderstorm that swept through New York City Tuesday night, the YouTube user ESBisMyMuse trained a videocamera on the Empire State Building and captured about 30 seconds of video showing lightning striking the iconic skyscraper three times in succession.

"I caught three direct strikes to the Empire State Building lightning rod after midnight on 4/13/11 during a severe thunderstorm. I actually saw a fourth direct hit, but sadly wasn't filming at the time. I've never seen so many hits on the ESB in one night. It was ridiculous! But so much fun to watch," ESBisMyMuse wrote in the video's description.

The video, which has racked up more than 44,000 thousand clicks on YouTube, is quickly making its way across the Internet though Facebook, Twitter and news reports.

Empire State Building Is Hit by Lightning About 100 Times Each Year

But though the lightning show makes for good online entertainment, for the Empire State Building -- the tallest building in New York -- sustaining multiple strikes of lightning is just business as usual.

Each year, it's said that the 103-story building is hit about 100 times.

"Lightning tends to strike the tallest building in the immediate area," said John Jensenius, a lighting safety specialist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Weather Service. "With the Empire State Building Being the tallest building, obviously it's more likely to be struck than buildings in that area."

In a typical lightning strike, a so-called "step leader" (or channel of charged particles emanating from a cloud) moves toward the ground looking for something to meet it, he said. In the case of New York, the most convenient object is the Empire State Building.

Lightning Strikes May Have Originated From the Ground

But, Jensenius said that not all of the lightning strikes that hit the building Tuesday night originated from the clouds. In fact, he said that while the first strike in the video looks like it came from aloft, it appears as though the subsequent strikes moved in the opposite direction.

"In the video, it looked like the lightning initiated from the ground and then it went upward toward the cloud. Just based on the fact that it was pronged upward," he said.

In other words, the Empire State Building didn't just get struck by lightning, it helped generate the lightning.

That's because, in a thunderstorm, objects on the ground take an electric charge opposite to the charge above it in the cloud, Jensenius said.

While most lightning moves downward, it can branch upward from tall antennae, buildings and mountain tops when electric charges in the clouds change quickly, he said.

But of the 25 million lightning flashes in an average year, he said, very few are of the ground-to-cloud variety.

To watch the video, click here.

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