Does “Heat Lightning” Exist?

The answer is simply, no.  It is a common misconception, and don’t worry, even I thought heat lightning was a “thing” when I was younger.

A lot of times in the summer months, we get several pictures of lightning sent to us with the caption “heat lightning”.  People refer to this as heat lightning, because the sky is mainly clear, and they can see flashes of lightning in the distance, and think it is caused from the heat and humidity.

The truth is pretty simple: All lightning is associated with a thunderstorm.  You are simply seeing the tops of the thunderstorm clouds (and associated lightning) from a distance.  The picture above was taken in Cedar Falls, looking southeast toward storms that popped up in the overnight hours in parts of Tama and Benton counties.  You can see the moon in the right hand corner, indicating the clear sky over Cedar Falls.

So why can’t you hear the thunder?  You are only able to hear thunder if you are within 10-15 miles from a storm.  You can see lightning up to one hundred miles away from a storm (the speed of light is faster than the speed of sound).

That being said, if you can hear thunder, you are close enough to the thunderstorm, you are close enough to be struck by lightning.  As the saying goes, “When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors.”


Posted under Lightning, Photo, Weather Trivia

This post was written by Kyle Kiel on July 7, 2017

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