What is behind the science of thunder and lightning?

What is behind the science of thunder and lightning?

Temperatures reach over 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, making lightning hotter than the surface of the Sun.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Lightning is one of the most powerful and dangerous natural phenomena on Earth. Lightning is a giant spark of static electricity, and acts as a kind of “neutralizer” for electrical charges in the atmosphere.

Lightning has a lot of unique properties. For example, although lightning bolts appear very large in the sky, the actual width of the electrical current is only a few centimeters. The flash makes the lightning bolt appear larger than it actually is.

It is also exceptionally hot. Believe it or not, lightning can reach temperatures of over 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit. That's five times hotter than the surface of the Sun, and even hotter than lava here on Earth.


You may have heard the saying, “Lightning never strikes the same place twice.” this is not true. Lightning can often strike one location multiple times during the same storm. Skyscrapers like the Empire State Building are struck by lightning an average of 23 times a year.

Lightning can also strike areas far from the original thunderstorm. These strikes, known as “blue lightning bolts,” can land up to six miles from the main thunderstorm. They are called “bolts of blue” because they appear to emerge from the clear sky.


Lightning is dangerous. The odds of being struck by lightning during an average lifetime of 80 years is 1 in 15,300. In 2023, 13 people will be killed by lightning. This is actually the second lowest number of deaths on record according to the National Lightning Safety Council.

There are many types of lightning. The most common are cloud-to-ground (CTG) and cloud-to-cloud (CTC). There are other rare electrical phenomena that come from thunderstorms under very specific conditions. Known as transient luminous events, these forms of lightning are known as red sprites, blue sprites, and green elves.


Another type of lightning is called Thermal lightning. You may have heard the term before, but it's just the light from a distant storm whose lightning bolt you can't see and the thunder you can't hear.

We cannot mention lightning without mentioning thunder.

How are they formed? When lightning forms, the air around it gets very hot and expands outward at breakneck speeds, then cools quickly as well. The rapid expansion and contraction of air produces sound waves that form thunder.

Since sound moves slower than light, you usually see lightning before you hear thunder. It takes about five seconds for a sound of thunder to travel a mile. This means yes, you can use thunder to estimate how far away a lightning strike is.


Calculate the time from when you see a flash of lightning until you hear thunder and divide it by 5. So, 5 seconds = 1 mile, 15 seconds = 3 miles, and so on. In general, the furthest distance you can hear thunder is 25 miles.

Remember this saying: When thunder roars, head inside.

Contact meteorologist Alden German at AGerman@whas11.com Or on Facebook or Twitter

Make it easy to keep up with more stories like this. Download the WHAS11 News app now. to apple or Android Users.

Do you have a news tip? e-mail appoint@whas11.comor visit us Facebook page or Twitter feed.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *