Does heat lightning make noise? Is heat lightning even real? How dangerous is heat lightning?
These are some of the questions surrounding the meteorological myth of “heat lightning.”
There are lots of misconceptions about heat lightning. Many people believe heat lightning is caused by oppressive heat or that it is a different kind of lightning entirely.
Well, that’s not true because heat lightning is no different from normal cloud-to-ground lightning.
Heat lightning does make noise, but they’re happening a significant distance away, so you won’t be able to hear them. You would be able to see the flash it produces, but not hear the thunder.
Does Heat Lightning Make Noise?
Heat lightning is a term used to describe the faint light that is sometimes visible on the horizon during hot summer nights.
It is called “heat lightning” because it is often seen during hot weather when the air is unstable and thunderstorms are likely to develop.
Heat lightning does not produce any sound because it is actually lightning that is too far away for the accompanying thunder to be heard.
The light that is seen is produced by the lightning, but the thunder is too far away to be heard.
When lightning occurs, it produces a bright flash of light and a loud clap of thunder.
If the lightning is far enough away, the light can be seen, but the thunder will not be heard because the sound waves have dissipated by the time they reach the observer.
Why Does Heat Lightning Make Noise?
Heat lightning, also known as silent lightning or summer lightning, is a term used to describe a faint flash of light that is seen in the sky during warm weather, usually at night.
The light is produced by a distant thunderstorm, but it is too far away to be heard.
Despite its name, heat lightning does not actually produce any noise.
The flash of light that is seen is actually the result of lightning occurring in a thunderstorm that is too far away to be heard.
When lightning occurs, it produces a flash of light as well as a shock wave that travels through the air.
The shock wave is what we hear as thunder.
Because the thunderstorm producing the heat lightning is too far away, the shock wave does not have enough energy to reach our ears, and we do not hear any thunder.
Why Do People Assume That Some Noises Are From Heat Lightning?
Heat lightning is a meteorological phenomenon that occurs when lightning is seen in the distance, but no thunder is heard.
This is because the lightning is too far away for the sound waves to reach the observer.
Reason #1: Lightning is causing a low-frequency vibration
There are several possible reasons why people may think they hear noise associated with heat lightning.
One possibility is that the lightning is causing a low-frequency vibration in the air, which can be felt or heard by some people.
This vibration is known as infrasound and can be produced by various atmospheric phenomena, including lightning.
Reason #2: Noise Is Coming From Another Source
Another possibility is that the noise is actually coming from another source, such as a nearby storm or the sound of distant thunder being reflected off of clouds or other objects in the sky.
It is also possible that the noise is simply a figment of the observer’s imagination, as the brain can fill in missing information when it is expecting to hear a sound, such as the thunder following a flash of lightning.
In any case, it is important to note that heat lightning is not a real form of lightning and that the term is simply a colloquialism used to describe the appearance of lightning in the distance.
The lightning itself is no different from any other type of lightning and can be just as dangerous.
Heat Lightning Vs. Other Types Of Lightning
As mentioned in the introductory part of this article, weather-wise, heat lightning is no different from ordinary cloud-to-ground lightning.
In reality, heat lightning is not officially recognized.
The term was coined to describe a phenomenon where accumulated heat in the atmosphere somehow creates static electrical charges in the cloud.
Now, these electrical charges in the cloud spark to form lightning.
This is false and has not been proven yet.
What Is Cloud-to-Ground Lightning?
Cloud-to-ground lightning is formed when a channel of negative charge known as a “stepped leader” zigzags downwards.
It usually comes in a forked pattern (that’s why they are often referred to as forked lightning).
This stepped leader is invincible to human eyes and shoots to the ground in milliseconds.
As the negatively charged stepped ladder nears the ground, it attracts and causes streamer channels of positive charge to reach upwards.
These channels of positive charges are usually bounced off of tall structures in the area, such as trees, tall buildings, or telephone poles.
Avoid standing under tall structures during a thunderstorm, as you can be struck.
When both the negatively charged stepped leader and the positively charged streamer channels connect, a powerful electrical current starts to flow.
This produces a bright visible flash, also known as a “return stroke,” which travels at about 60,000 miles per second back into the cloud.
Each visible flash we see might consist of one to twenty return strokes, which repeat themselves several times while traveling along the same path.
Note: The flash produced by cloud-to-ground lightning can be seen as far away as 100 miles and the thunder will also sound different depending on how far or close you are to the lightning.
How To Distinguish Between “Heat Lightning” And Cloud-To-Ground Lightning
You can easily distinguish between heat lightning and cloud-to-ground lightning by their thunder.
As we know, heat lightning does not make any sound.
On the other hand, cloud-to-ground lightning starts by making a soft crackling sound, which is produced by its dimly lit secondary branches.
This is then followed by a large, startling crack that is produced by the main channel.
Another way to tell if its heat lightning is by its appearance. If the lightning is just a faint flash of light, then it’s most likely heat lightning.
But cloud-to-ground lightning would be bright and look like it’s coming from the cloud straight to the ground in a forked pattern.
And finally, distance.
If the lightning strike feels closer to you and you can hear the roar, then it could be cloud-to-ground lightning.
But if the lightning strike seems distant without producing any sound, it’s heat lightning.
Is “Heat Lightning” Dangerous?
Heat lightning is safe, as it involves watching a storm from a safe distance.
Thunderstorms are capable of striking dozens of kilometers away from their bases.
So if you can hear the thunder, it is possible that you can get struck by the lightning.
Heat lightning in the distance could also be a sign that a thunderstorm is coming your way, so always be on the alert and take cover when it arrives.
Few Misconceptions About Heat Lightning
There are a few misconceptions surrounding heat lightning, such as it being a real type of lightning, which it is not.
In this section, we will be debunking some myths about heat lightning.
Myth #1: Heat Lightning Is Caused By Oppressive Heat In The Atmosphere
Heat lightning is not formed as a result of the buildup of excessive heat in the atmosphere.
The word “heat” is used to represent the period when heat lightning is spotted the most, which is the summer season.
Just like every other type of lightning, heat lightning is formed when there is a buildup of positive and negative charges in a thunderstorm cloud.
Myth #2: Heat Lightning Only Occurs In The Summer
Heat lightning, just like every other type of lightning, can strike any time of the year if the conditions are right.
Although heat lightning occurs more frequently in the summer months due to the warmer air and longer days associated with them.
Myth #3: Heat lightning And Dry Thunderstorms Are The Same
Both heat lightning and dry thunderstorms are different phenomena.
Heat lightning is just ordinary lightning happening far away.
Meanwhile, a thunderstorm is attributed as “dry” if it occurs in the absence of rain or storm to observers.
In dry thunderstorms, the rain actually exists but is not visible as it evaporates right before reaching the ground.
Note: Dry lightning and dry thunderstorm are often used interchangeably in some texts, but they are not the same.
General Lightning Safety Tips
You should always be proactive when it comes to safety.
Make it a habit to always check the weather forecast before leaving your home, especially during the summer months.
This will help you avoid getting caught or unprepared when faced with a thunderstorm.
Here are some other safety tips to help keep you safe in a rainstorm.
- Avoid wet surfaces when there is a storm.
- Don’t use or touch any electrical equipment.
- Avoid standing close to windows, doors, and concrete.
- During a storm, avoid using corded phones; instead, use wireless phones.
- Seek shelter immediately if you are caught in the open.
- Avoid standing close to tall structures.
- Avoid open spaces.
- And if you are outside, run indoors.
Tip: If you find yourself in the middle of the sea during a thunderstorm, quickly wear your life jacket, get rid of all metal jewelry, and stand in the middle of the boat.
Does heat lightning make noise? Yes, it does, but it’s just too far away for you to hear.
I believe at this point you now know what heat lightning is all about.
As a recap, always remember that “heat lightning” is not an approved term used to describe any type of lightning.
It is also different from dry thunderstorms and occurs all year round once the needed conditions are met in the atmosphere.