What’s Up Weather with Jordyn Jenna: Is heat lighting a real thing?

What's Up Weather With Jordyn Jenna

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — Heat lightning. It’s something we talk about a lot around here, especially during the summer.

Did you know, there’s technically no such thing as heat lightning? Meteorologist Jordyn Jenna explains in her weekly “What’s Up Weather?” segment and tells us what we’re really seeing.

Imagine this, you’re outside taking a glimpse at the late-night sky, and you see a flicker of light shine in the atmosphere above you. You start to think, “Yep, it is still pretty hot outside. There goes that heat lightning, again.” What if I told you heat lightning isn’t real? 

The phrase “heat lightning” is commonly used when it is hot and humid outside with no rain or thunder in the nearby region. The flickering light in the sky is definitely lightning, but heat does not create it.

“Heat lightning” is no different than actual lightning. Even though you cannot hear thunder or see storm clouds in the sky, the flashes of lightning you see are still associated with a storm. Because the earth is a curved surface, the human eye can only see a few miles on the ground. This is different when looking up at the sky.

With storms strolling through the atmosphere, our eyes can actually see as far as 60 miles away. Eventually, as storms continue to travel away, the curvature of the earth makes it impossible to see them, but flashes of light can still be seen at even farther distances. Lightning can be seen as far as 100 miles away, whereas storm clouds can only be seen from 60-70 miles away. 

It actually depends on how you think of the term “heat lightning” that determines if it is real or not. If you think that heat and humidity are causing lightning to flash in the sky, then heat lightning is definitely not real. We would be in a lot more trouble if heat actually created powerful bolts of electricity randomly. Fortunately, that’s not the case. I’m meteorologist Jordyn Jenna.

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