I know that there are a certain group of people that at one point asked themselves “does heat lightning have thunder?”
If you are not part of that group, you will soon be included because, trust me, you are about to ask yourself the same question.
Summer nights are one of the best nights to see nature’s finest moments and one of those includes the famously known heat lightning.
There is a lot of speculation about heat lightning over the years but one question remains constant and that is the one asked earlier on in this paragraph.
Does heat lightning have thunder?
As beautiful and slightly daunting as heat lightning might seem, it is never accompanied by thunder. So in answer to the question, heat lightning doesn’t have thunder, and the reason why would be discussed later in this article.
Does Heat Lightning Have Thunder?
So, is there thunder with heat lightning?
Well, as I said earlier, heat lightning doesn’t have thunder due to several reasons. But the main reason is because of the nature of its existence.
Because of the way heat lightning came to be, it can’t really be regarded as normal lightning, which means it doesn’t have normal lightning properties.
So if you think because lightning has thunder, then heat lightning should too, you are quite wrong.
Now that we know heat lightning is never accompanied by thunder like your normal lightning, I am sure you are now curious as to why it is so.
Well, the reason behind it is quite simple and it lies behind the very definition of heat lightning itself. We will be discussing that in the next part of this article.
Why Does Heat Lightning Have No Thunder?
There are several reasons why heat lightning has no thunder.
But, before we can fully understand why let’s talk about heat lightning and how it comes to be.
Heat lightning is a popular phenomenon that is quite common on summer nights.
The name originated years ago when the sky would light up with quiet lightning-like flashes of lights.
A lot of people tried to come up with a name or an explanation for this summer mystery.
But since there wasn’t much weather radar or meteorologist back in the day, people decided to give it a name of their own, hence heat lightning.
Heat lightning is basically a simple cloud-to-ground lightning that occurs at a great distance from the observer.
This type of lightning produces no audible thunder whatsoever.
Note: So it is basically a flash show of lights in the evening sky without any sound accompanying it.
The main reason why heat lightning has no thunder is because of the distance between the thunderstorm and where you are.
In most cases, when heat lightning is spotted, the thunderstorm can be really far away.
And unlike light, sound waves can not travel as far, which is why you might see the lightning but not hear the thunder.
The sound of thunder, in most cases, can not travel past ten miles, so even if you catch a glimpse of the lightning, the thunder might not be heard over the distance.
Tip: Thunderstorms have to be within 10 to 100 miles away to be able to see the heat of lightning.
This is a property of waves that determines how it is experienced by the world around them.
Refraction of sound waves is very important because it determines if the sound is heard and in what manner it is heard.
When sound travels through mediums, it is affected by the things around it.
Glass, water, and so many more contribute to the refraction of sound. Now I know you are wondering what this has to do with anything.
The heat lightning you see is a result of a thunderstorm happening at a faraway distance.
Since it travels at a different wavelength, the lightning can be seen, but the thunder, on the other hand, is refracted on several layers of haze and clouds.
This is why as I stated earlier, it plays a big role in how the sound is heard.
Note: Because of the amount of time the thunder has been reflected over the distance, at some point, there would be no sound of thunder.
The same concept applies to reflection, when the thunder is reflected, you hear echoes as would any sound wave that is reflected.
Sadly, echoes can travel over a large distance which is why after some time, it cancels out.
As you can see, the distance of the thunderstorm plays a huge part in the refraction and reflection of the sound waves that come from the thunder.
The lighting is also affected by this refraction and reflection, which is why you can see light at all.
Tip: This is also why the lightning you see is in little flashes and flickers of light.
Shape Of The Earth
The shape of the earth also plays a huge part in the fact that you see heat and lightning but can hear its thunder.
Based on the reflection and refraction of sound waves, thunder is reflected on the surfaces of the earth.
So instead of the sound wave being direct, it bounces off the earth’s surface into the troposphere or the lowest layer of the atmosphere.
This reflection makes you see the lightning before you hear the thunder.
Before the thunder gets to you, it would have been refracted by the density and temperature of the air in the atmosphere.
Based on the causes of heat lightning, I am sure you are also curious as to why it is called heat lightning.
The name heat lightning comes mainly from the fact that heat lightning is experienced mostly on warm, humid summer nights.
And to be honest, the weather at that time plays a big role in how the heat lightning is spotted.
On warm humid nights, it is quite typical for the sky to be hazy now and then.
The thunderstorm, no matter how far away, would be reflected off the many layers of haze, making you see heat lightning.
Note: The thunder on the other hand does not make it over such distance, which is why you hear none.
Misconceptions About Heat Lightning
There are a few misconceptions about heat lightning, we’ve highlighted them below for a better understanding.
Misconception #1: Does Heat Lightning Truly Exist?
To be quite frank, there is no such thing as heat lightning. It is just a name given to the phenomenon where there is lightning but no thunder.
The phenomenon has been given quite a few names, such as cloud-to-ground lightning, and silent lightning but the name heat lightning is the major name that stuck to the phenomenon.
The name stuck mainly because of how often the phenomenon is experienced on summer nights.
Now do not get me wrong, heat lightning does exist but not for the reason most people think.
It is not just lightning with no sound or a wonderful flash show on a summer evening.
It exists because of a thunderstorm so far off that even though you see flickers of lights, you can’t hear the sounds of the thunder.
Misconception #2: Origin Of The Name
Another misconception is the name and how it originated. It is called heat lightning because it is seen mostly on summer nights but that is not fully true.
It is seen mostly on summer nights because summer nights have high humidity causing haze.
These layers of haze help in the reflection of light which is why you see heat lightning more on summer nights.
Tip: This doesn't mean you can not see it in any other season or weather condition.
Does Heat Lightning Have The Same Effect As Normal Lightning?
A lot of people often ask this question, asking if heat lightning is the same as normal lightning and if there is anything to be afraid of.
So worry not, because heat lightning is merely a reflection of an actual light on the layers of haze in the sky, it doesn’t carry lightning’s electrical charges because it is merely a reflection.
So for that same reason, heat lightning doesn’t have the same effect as normal Lightning.
It doesn’t have thunder after it flashes, nor does it strike, so you have nothing to worry about.
Does heat lightning have thunder? No, it doesn’t. If it does, then it is no longer heat lightning but lightning itself.
Heat lightning is a misnomer used to describe lightning seen in flashes of light you see on the horizon that is not accompanied by any sound.
The name might be wrong and the phenomenon might be one we made up but one thing is for sure, we couldn’t have found a better misnomer than that.
We have gotten to the end of this article and I hope all the information given has been enlightening.
Thank you for your time and patience. Stay safe!