Speed of Thunder

What is the Speed of Thunder?  With a name of CJ's Speed & Thunder, I have gotten many hits from search engines looking for the answer to that question.  This page answers for some people (myself included) who have questions about Thunder. This intrigued me enough to create this page and compile my own information. On this page I answer in my own words, "What is Thunder?"

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What is Thunder

Lightning causes thunder because a strike of lightning is incredibly hot. A typical bolt of lightning can immediately heat the air to between 15,000 to 60,000 degrees Fahrenheit. That's hotter than the surface of the sun! A lightning strike can heat the air in a fraction of a second. When air is heated that quickly, it expands violently and then contracts, like an explosion in a fraction of a second. It's that explosion of air that creates sound waves, which we hear and call thunder.

When lightning strikes very close by, we hear the thunder as a loud and short bang, or a clap. When we hear thunder from far away, it is a long, low rumble.

Lightning always produces thunder. When you see lightning but don't hear any thunder, the lightning is too far away from you for the sound waves to reach you. If you can hear thunder, the lightning probably struck within 10 miles.

How Fast Does Thunder Travel?

Thunder travels through air at "the speed of sound". Officially the speed of sound is 1,087 feet per second (331.3 meters per second) in dry air at 32 degrees F (0 degrees C). At a normal temperature like 82 degrees F (25 degrees C) the speed is 1200 feet per second (346 meters per second). The speed of sound changes depending on the temperature and the humidity. Sound travels a mile in roughly 5 seconds and a kilometer in roughly 3 seconds.

Why can I see Lightning before I hear Thunder?

Lightning is seen with your eyes. Because it travels at 186,000 miles per second (the speed of light) or one mile in 5.3 millionths of a second, we see it so much sooner than we hear the thunder.

After a Flash of Lightning, How Can I Calculate How Far Away it Struck?

If lightning occurs a mile away, it takes thunder five seconds to travel one mile. The next time you see a flash of lightning count the number of seconds before the thunder arrives, then divide this number by five to find out how far the lightning is away. If it takes 10 seconds for the thunder to roll in, the lightning struck about 2 miles away (3 kilometers away).

Other Bits of Trivia About Thunder

Thor, from Viking mythology, is known as The God of Thunder

Mind Scrambler

Born Motherless and Fatherless, Into this world without a sin
Made a loud roar as I entered, And never spoke again.
What am I?

Answer: Thunder.


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