Living in a State… A State of Shock!

by

Shannon O'Donnell

Kissing my husband or two little boys has been dangerous lately… and not just because my unpredictable 2-year-old sometimes wields that out-of-nowhere-head-butt-to-the-nose that so many toddlers use to keep you guessing (that’s another blog–if you noticed my slightly-fat-lip last week, now you know where it came from, and it wasn’t a la a collagen injection!) With such cold, dry winter air in place over California this month, we’re experiencing a problem not often seen around here: lots of static electricity!

It’s deemed ‘static’ electricity because it’s not moving (as in actively moving via a current), but you can sure feel it when that electricity DOES decide to move…often when you touch something metal, or even touch someone else! The zap you feel is the movement of electrons–the negatively charged particles that encircle atoms. Since we’re all made up of atoms, we carry electrons on us at all times. Usually, their jumping back and forth between you and the objects around you goes undetected…it happens all the time. So, why do you feel that sting and see that spark during cold, dry winter weather?

Items that hang on loosely to electrons are considered good CONDUCTORS of electricity. Metal, for instance, is a great conductor, which is why pots and pans are made from metal…they heat up quickly, in turn, conveniently heating up your food, too! Items that hang on very tightly to their electrons are known as INSULATORS. Air is a great insulator, particularly dry air…it just doesn’t want to give those electrons up.

When there is a lot of water in the air (which is usually the case in our mild coastal climate), the water molecules act like ‘WD40’ and kind of ‘grease the path’ for the electrons, allowing them to jump more freely between different items. During our normal climatic conditions, you don’t even feel the electrons moving off and on your body, as the moist air allows them to jump before they have the chance to build up. However, when the air is very cold it can get extremely dry (how are your lips and skin doing nowadays?), and without a lot of water in the air to help keep the electrons moving along, those little buggers tend to build up on us much more so than usual. So when they DO finally jump, the electric shock is much bigger, and usually results in an “owww!”, especially if that electron jump is between you and someone else!

Unfortunately, kissing may still be questionable for the next week or so–the forecast is still calling for cold and mainly dry weather. Hopefully we’ll be back to normal for Valentine’s Day!

Shannon O’Donnell
NBC11 WeatherPlus Meteorologist

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