Heat Lightning is a Myth?

Lightning on a hot summer night. That’s “heat lightning”, right?

Contrary to common belief, the “heat lightning” phenomena is simply lightning from a distant thunderstorm. Lightning doesn’t simply form from heat on a summer night.

How come it’s clear and I don’t hear thunder?

  • Well, at night, the sky is dark and thunderstorms can be seen from a distance. In fact, with good visibility, one can see lightning from a thunderstorm that is 50, 75 or even 100 miles away at night.
  • As for thunder, sound travels slower than the speed of light. If a bolt of lightning strikes more than 10 miles away, the sound may not be heard. The sound disperses into the air and can be blocked or absorbed by the ground, mountains, hills, vegetation, clouds, falling rain, etc.

Further explanation:
Rising and falling air within a thunderstorm separates positive and negative charges. The buildup of this energy causes a discharge between the areas of negative and positive charge. This is lightning!

So, the next time you see lightning at night and there appears to be no storms around, keep in mind that a storm could be on the way! If not, sit back and enjoy the light show, as sometimes they can be observed from a great distance away.

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Quincy is a meteorologist and storm chaser who travels around the country documenting and researching severe weather. He has on-air experience with stations such as WTNH-TV in New Haven, CT and WREX-TV in Rockford, IL. He was most recently a digital meteorologist for weather.com.

After achieving his B.S. degree in Meteorology at Western Connecticut State University (WCSU) in 2009, he returned as a University Assistant to help produce weather broadcasts. He also gave guest lectures and worked on website design.

He has over nine years of professional weather forecasting experience and his forecasts have been featured in newspapers and on radio stations in multiple states.

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