All lightning produces thunder

June 14th, 2012 at 12:49 pm by under 4 Warn Weather

With summer beginning at 7:09PM this coming Wednesday it’s hard not to think about the epitome of summer weather, a thunderstorm.

By: Ryan Farrell, weather intern

“Heat lightning” is a commonly misunderstood weather phenomenon that occurs in nature.  All lightning produces sound waves, given the name thunder, but often that thunder cannot be heard beyond about 15 miles.  This limitation is contributed to the dampening effect that the atmosphere has on the waves in addition to absorption by topography, vegetation, low-level clouds, and buildings.  This is comparable to seeing a person shouting from far away, but not being able to hear them.  That doesn’t mean that they aren’t making a sound, it just means that the sound waves dissipated before reaching your ear.  What is thought to be heat lightning is just lightning that is seen from a distant storm, with the thunder’s sound waves not reaching the observer.

Do you want to know an easy way of estimating the distance a lightning strike occurs from you?  Since light waves travel much faster than sound waves, a “flash-to-bang” ratio was developed for an approximated distance.  First, count the number of seconds from when you see the lightning flash to when you initially hear the thunder.  Since 750 mph is approximately equivalent to one mile in every five seconds, five seconds of time is equal to one mile in distance.  As an example, if you hear thunder 15 seconds after you had seen the flash, you are approximately 3 miles from the lightning strike.  It may be difficult though during storms in which multiple lightning/thunder pairs occur immediately following one another.

5 Responses to “All lightning produces thunder”

  1. Dave from Roc says:

    It’s amazing how many people think that heat lightning is nothing more than flashes in the sky that occur on very warm summer nights – unrelated to actual thunderstorms. I, myself, was told that by my parents when I was young, and believed it to be true for a few years before I learned differently. Unfortunately, there are many things that people don’t bother to think about or confuse when it comes to weather. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people declare at work, “It’s hailing!” when it’s actually sleeting or graupeling during the wintertime. Oh well.

  2. Deb says:

    Any word on whether next weekend will be as hot? Am going to be somewhere without a/c that weekend.

  3. THINKSNOW12 says:

    Hey Deb,

    Go to the other thread, don has your answer there.

  4. lois says:

    65degrees in the shade this am with interesting sky. Sunny and blue; jet streams (30 thou.ft.plus?) are moving slowly in a SW direction, lower clouds are moving in a NEstrly direction. Birds are chirping, weeds are growing, nice day to be alive.

  5. HamburgSnowMan says:

    Very interesting , Thank you ( sorry if this is double post)

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