pseudoscience tuesday

Brittney’s got a post at NiT about thunderstorms, which we’re expecting a heavy dose of today:

I hate the effects of a natural disaster, but watching one brew is great fun. There is something about the crackle of electrcity in the dark, quickly moving skies that is exhilerating. I love a good thunderstorm, and feel a bit of pity for West Coasters who’ve never experienced a really rocking one.

It reminded me that a long time ago, someone (I can’t remember who) told me that the reason people find thunderstorms so exhilarating is actually because the storms generate ozone, which is what causes the distinct “smell” after a thunderstorm and also gets you high.

Well, I never gave it a second thought until I read Brittney’s post and so I was trying to figure out if that’s true or not. Well, turns out lightning does indeed create ozone, but Ozone, being O3, is actually quite corrosive and hence poisonous – imparing lung function, causing long-term asthma, etc. So, while sometimes things that are poisonous do also get you high, somehow I think that’s not the case here. My next thought was that maybe the O3 created during a storm was enough to oxidize other gasses in the air resulting in a higher O2 concentration, but Rev pointed out that concentrations of Ozone high enough to actually do that would probably kill you as well.

So, I think this guy was half-full of it. Ozone is indeed what you can smell in the air during/after a storm, but it doesn’t “get you high”. I think the exhilaration of a storm can be pinpointed to:

  • Adrenalin from the excitement of a storm
  • Ionized O2 in the air (maybe)

The ozone might arguably be the reason the air feels cleaner after a storm, however, since I understand it does oxidize pollutants in the air.