When lightning flashes across the sky, it is usually associated with the booming sound of thunder. Specifically, in the southern U.S, lightning is sometimes seen as a faint flash with no sounds of thunder and not the traditional lightning strike we are accustomed to. This is commonly referred to as heat lightning. However, heat lightning is a myth and is just lightning from a distant thunderstorm. The National Severe Storms Laboratory defines lightning as “a giant spark of electricity in the atmosphere between clouds, the air, or the ground.” The sound we traditionally call thunder is caused by lightning. Lightning heats the air to extreme temperatures causing the air to expand, creating the sound of thunder.
With lightning that has been called heat lightning, there is a variety of reasons why you may not hear the associated thunder or see the storm where it originated from. Topography, like mountains or hills, can affect your view of the storm and inhibit you from seeing the actual lightning strike. Also, the curvature of the Earth can affect it as the sound wave can bounce off the surface before it reaches the individual. Lastly, unless you are within close proximity of the thunderstorm, there is a strong possibility the sound of thunder will not reach you due to the distance between you and the storm. Whether you hear the thunder or not, lightning remains one of the most interesting and captivating weather phenomena.
Photo Credit: Farmers' Almanac
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©2019 Weather Forecaster Dakari Anderson