Weather Academy: What is Thunder?

Published: Oct. 25, 2021 at 7:50 PM CDT
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MONROE, La. (KNOE) - Earlier this month, we learned all about the anatomy of lightning and even did some shocking experiments to show the power of lightning up close. Let’s talk about its companion, thunder. You can’t have thunder without lightning, as the saying goes, and that’s true.

Thunder is technically a shockwave. Last week we learned that lightning is the energy released from positive charges connecting with negative charges in the cloud. This exertion of energy releases a flash of light and heat that we know as lightning. Lightning is about 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit which is roughly five times hotter than the surface of the sun. It is also moving through a very narrow channel of air only about two to three centimeters wide.

The air in this channel jumps in temperatures so quickly that the hot air quickly expands into the cooler air around it. This is what creates the shockwave, aka the loud boom of thunder we hear. The speed of light is significantly faster than the speed of sound. That is why we likely see the flash of lightning before we hear the thunder during a thunderstorm. You can tell how far away a thunderstorm is by counting the seconds between seeing the flash and hearing the thunder. Five seconds usually indicates one mile, so if there is a 10-second gap between the thunder and lightning, the storm is about two miles away.

We hope that this explanation helped you better understand what exactly thunder is. Always remember when thunder roars go indoors. Make sure you tune in to the Weather Academy next week when we will be making our own thunder in the studio!

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