What Really Happens When Lightning Strikes Sand?
Remember that scene in Sweet Home Alabama when lightning strikes the beach and makes these magical glass sculptures? Yes, you probably do because you (like myself) probably made the mistake of going to see that movie when it came out and you were going through your “Reese Witherspoon phase.” It’s ok, we’re not here to judge.
I only bring it up, because I was always very confused by it. The movie was in no other way fantastical, but if was true that lightning could make beautiful glass, why didn’t people talk about that more? Why had I never seen beach glass? Was it a real phenomenon, or was the movie just effing with me?
Of course, nothing is ever simple, so the answer is: both.
When lightning strikes sand or soil, it can form hollow glass tubes, known as fulgurites. The heat from the lightning melts silica and fuses the grains of sand together. When they cool, a fulgurite, or “petrified lightning” is formed.
The thing Sweet Home Alabama got wrong, though, is what fulgurites look like. In real life, they can certainly be beautiful and magical-looking. They cannot, as far as my research can tell, look like fancy Italian blown glass art. Here are some real photos of fulgurites.