IOWA — A line of strong thunderstorms raced across the state last night, bringing a stunning light show for many; but did you know that lightning also makes the grass on your lawn greener? Let’s break down why this happens.

Lightning from a storm moving past Bondurant.

What makes the grass green?

Chlorophyll is the pigment grass produces which makes it green to begin with, but it’s Nitrogen that can help make the grass greener. Nitrogen is the element that forces plants to produce more chlorophyll. When this happens the grass grows and more sunlight can be absorbed. Sunlight is used for photosynthesis which allows for the roots to grow. (This is also why nitrogen is the most common component in fertilizers!)

How is nitrogen related to lightning?

The air naturally has nitrogen in it, in fact, about 78% of the air in our atmosphere is made up of nitrogen gas molecules. Because the grass’s roots are dug into the ground, they are unable to capture the nitrogen molecules that exist in the air.

Nitrogen in its molecular form is N2 which looks like this: .

Notice the three lines connecting the two Nitrogen atoms…those are bonds and they are strong. But lightning is stronger.

Lightning is strong enough to break the bond of a nitrogen molecule. When this happens the atoms quickly bond with an oxygen molecule creating a compound that is water soluble. (21% of the atmosphere is made of oxygen).

Oxygen in its molecular form is O2 which looks like this: .

The water soluble compound this creates falls to the ground and is able to soak into the soil, stimulating the roots of the grass. So, the abundant lightning that occurred with last night’s storms likely has your grass looking at least a little greener today.