Most people have never seen a fulgurite, and many that have probably did not realize what it was at the time. Fulgurites are natural tubes or crusts of glass formed by the fusion of silica (quartz) sand or rock from a lightning strike. Their shape mimics the path of the lightning bolt as it disperses into the ground.
All lightning strikes that hit the ground are capable of forming fulgurites. A temperature of 1800 degrees Celsius is required to instantaneously melt sand and form a fulgurite (most lightning strikes have a temperature of 2500 degrees Celsius). Fulgurites have been found worldwide, but are relatively rare.
Two types of fulgurites have been recognized: sand and rock fulgurites. Sand fulgurites are the most common and are generally found in beach or desert regions containing clean (free of fine-grained silt or clay), dry sand. They resemble roots or branching tube-like structures that have a rough surface, covered with partially melted sand grains.
Sand fulgurite tubes have a glassy interior, due to rapid cooling and solidification of the sand after the lightning strike. The size and length of a fulgurite depends on the strength of the lightning strike and the thickness of the sand bed. Many sand fulgurites average 1 or 2 inches in diameter and can be up to 30 inches long. Sand fulgurites have been found in Utah’s deserts and on top of some of the higher summits of the Wasatch Range.