What’s Up Weather with Jordyn: How far away is that thunderstorm?


GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — Did you know that thunder and lightning go hand in hand, and they never travel apart. That’s because lightning itself actually creates the sound of thunder.

Because of this, we can calculate just how far away a thunderstorm is from where we are standing. 

Once lightning cuts through the atmosphere, the air around it heats and cools in a split second. This expansion and contraction of air creates a sound wave, which is what we hear and call thunder. Even though lightning only strikes one spot on the ground, the flash of light is able to travel at farther distances. 

What’s really interesting is the fact that the first roar of thunder you hear is from lightning nearest to you. The continuing rumbles of thunder after that initial one is from lightning that is farther away. A quick cracking sound of lightning means lightning has stuck nearby. If you just hear a rumble of thunder, lightning is several miles away. A huge “booming” sound is lighting making contact with the ground. 

Lightning can be seen instantly within several miles, but it takes thunder five seconds to travel one single mile. Knowing the travel time of thunder can help calculate how far away lightning is from where you are standing.

It’s a super simple calculation, too. No need for a calculator. All you do is count how many seconds are between the flash of lightning and the resulting sound of thunder. For example, if we just saw lightning and counted out five seconds until we heard thunder, we just take 5/5. The lightning you saw is one mile away.

Even though it is pretty neat to calculate how far away a storm is, it is never a good idea to stick around outside the instant you hear thunder or see lightning. Be sure to practice caution and remember those lightning safety tips. 

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