Spring and summer storms bring needed rain, yet that may leave us asking, “why does thunder shake the house?”
But for many, thunderstorms can bring anxiety and fear over their side effects.
Thunder shaking a house may sound far-fetched for those who do not live near severe thunderstorms.
But storms like these are common, with about 16 million thunderstorms globally each year.
About 100,000 of those happen in the United States, and 10 percent are severe.
The shock waves generated by lightning cause thunder. You cannot have thunder without lightning! Thunder rolls because each strike makes its own shock wave to contribute to the overall crashing cacophony of house-shaking thunderstorms.
Into the Science of Thunder: Why Does Thunder Shake the House?
Lightning causes thunder. A shock wave happens because of the very bright light and extreme heat emitted from a lightning strike.
When we’re saying extreme, we’re not kidding.
A lightning channel’s air can reach 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit almost instantly!
This pressure build-up produces a significant disturbance as it forces itself through space. The release of that pressure is a potentially terrifying crash of thunder.
Pressure levels needed to cultivate a thunderstorm exist primarily within a particular latitude band around the globe.
This area’s climate has humid conditions with frequent opportunities for humid air and cool air to collide, generating a thunderstorm.
While they can happen at any time, thunderstorms roll in most often in the afternoon and evening as the humidity’s strength wanes and cooler night temperatures settle in.
Lightning in Thunderstorms
Think about Orlando, Florida, if you are trying to imagine the perfect climate for abundant lightning strikes and thunder crashes.
Yes, the land of Mickey Mouse experiences the most lightning each year, with about 160 lightning flashes per square kilometer each year.
Tip: Thunderstorms occur most often in the spring and summer, during months of humid weather.
Light travels much faster than the speed of sound, so you will see lightning long before you hear thunder.
The time between the flash and the thunder is also a simple way to estimate the thunderstorm’s current location.
The seconds between lightning and thunder are about how many miles away the storm may be.
Each lightning bolt has the potential to produce a shock wave within the first 10 yards of the weather event.
After 10 yards, this pressure becomes a sound wave and produces the thunder sound you hear.
Lightning and Thunder: Are They Always Together?
The strength of a particular lightning bolt will also determine the volume of the thunder crash.
Not every lightning bolt produces an accompanying thunder crash.
This is why thunderstorms will have rolling, cascading waves of thunder that are difficult to predict.
Lightning occurs outside of thunderstorms as well.
When the colliding temperature conditions are right, lightning can also light up the space around volcanoes, happen during a blizzard, or be a side effect of nuclear detonations.
Can Strong Thunder Be Dangerous?
Thunder is dangerous simply because it can only exist in the presence of lightning.
If a thunderstorm or severe thunderstorm is forecast, it is essential to take this seriously.
A severe thunderstorm warning means the presence of lightning, high winds, or hail.
A severe thunderstorm watch simply informs you that conditions are right for worse weather to develop, so be cautious.
In rare cases, when you hear thunder at very close range, thunder itself can cause damage.
If a structure is close enough to the thunder’s shock wave, nails can pop out of drywall, or windows can break from the pressure of the lightning bolt.
How Thunder Can Injure Us
Severe thunderstorms are dangerous! They tend to produce torrential rainfall and flash flooding.
Hail can even happen, and all of these things cause damage.
- Flash floods kill more people annually than tornadoes, hurricanes, or lightning strikes.
- Hail can damage property or kill livestock not under a shelter.
- Lightning can start fires or kill humans in rare situations.
Lightning is the second leading cause of death from severe thunderstorms, just behind flash flooding.
Tornadoes can also develop from the same air conditions that generate thunderstorms.
Those in the tornado’s path may experience severe property damage to structures or power lines.
With wind speeds up to 300 mph, tornadoes frequently claim victims from mobile homes or cars.
Thunderstorm Safety Tips
As mentioned above, thunderstorms can be dangerous and damaging to your surroundings.
Here are a few safety tips to help you navigate your next bout of severe weather.
One of the most important safety tips is to attempt to get indoors.
Check the weather report before making outdoor plans in the spring and summer so you never find yourself unexpectedly outside as a storm system rolls in.
Check Your Shelter
Not every outdoor shelter is a good choice.
Try to find an open convenience store, shopping mall, or even a parked car with the windows rolled up. Never choose an open vehicle or structure.
These can include:
- Golf Carts
- Baseball dugouts
If you find yourself outdoors in a thunderstorm, find the lowest elevation nearby.
Leave any hills or peaks and try to find a ditch or other low area to serve as shelter.
Avoid a solitary tree or any bodies of water when attempting to find outdoor shelter in a thunderstorm.
Whatever shelter you find, never lie flat but instead crouch. Curling up into a ball will provide fewer points of contact to the ground.
Tip: Tuck your head and keep your hands over your ears to protect against the crash of thunder.
If you are with a group, separate yourselves to provide a less convenient target for a lightning strike.
Avoid items that conduct electricity, like metal fences, windmills, or power lines.
Concrete surfaces are not safe as they contain metal that can easily conduct electricity.
Staying indoors is the best option for a safe thunderstorm experience.
However, there are still hazards inside the house you should avoid during severe weather.
Just like outdoors, avoid water during a thunderstorm. Save taking a shower, doing dishes, or other activities that involve using your indoor plumbing.
Lightning can travel through a structure’s plumbing and electrocute you.
Similarly, lightning can travel through metal wires and concrete walls. Avoid using electrical equipment during a thunderstorm.
Never use corded phones, television, radio, or your computer in stormy weather. Charge external battery packs in advance for emergency use.
It is OK to use a cordless or mobile phone during a thunderstorm.
Your belongings may also be at risk during severe weather.
Surge protectors are an inexpensive and wise investment to protect electronics and appliances.
They help keep refrigerators and TVs from frying during a thunderstorm’s electrical surges.
Conclusion: Why Does Thunder Shake the House?
So, why does thunder shake the house? The remarkable reaction that makes lightning happen produces the distinctive roar of thunder.
Lightning produces heat and pressure, generating a blinding shock wave and crashing sound wave.
The strength of the lightning and its relative closeness affect how loud the thunderclap will be. These cascading sound waves make a classic thunderstorm.
While it is rare for thunder to cause damage, the power of the shock wave can be harmful in rare circumstances.
More often, thunder warns people of impending severe weather and to seek shelter. As they say, “when thunder roars, go indoors.”
The next time you wonder why thunder shook my house, consider the tremendous power that makes this phenomenon happen.
Take a moment to appreciate this natural wonder, from a safe place, of course!