LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – You have probably heard the term heat lightning before, people use to describe seeing lightning without experiencing thunder or rain.
Normally it will happen on a warm and humid summer night. It’s called “heat lightning” because some people think that the heat is creating those lightning strikes. But the fact of the matter is, heat lightning doesn’t exist.
What is happening is you are seeing the lightning from a storm that is off in the distance, but it is too far away so you can’t hear the thunder. Let’s try to visualize this here, say you are out on your patio on a warm summer night, and a few miles away there is a thunderstorm, with tall cumulus clouds that stretch 30,000 to 40,000 feet into the atmosphere, which is about normal for the height of a thunderstorm. Now in this case we can both see the lightning and hear thunder as well, even if that storm is a few miles away.
But turns out there is a limit to how far that sound can travel, and that limit is around 10 miles but can be more or less depending on the conditions in the atmosphere in a given area. So, what you are seeing is those tall storm clouds, but you can’t hear the thunder because you are outside of that 10-mile range, but because light travels faster and farther than sound you can still see that lightning.
So, the next time you are out on your porch on another hot and humid summer night, and someone points out “heat lightning” in the distance, you can simply tell them there’s no such thing.