Q:

Can you have thunder without lightning?

A:

Quick Answer

Thunder is caused by lightning, so it cannot happen independently. The loud cracking sound of thunder occurs when lightning raises the surrounding air temperature by thousands of degrees, causing it to rapidly expand and compress, according to SciJinks.

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Full Answer

Within a fraction of a second, lightning is capable of heating the air as high as 54,000 degrees Fahrenheit, SciJinks states. After being heated and compressed, the expanded columns of air shrink and cool down, giving off the initial "clap" of thunder. The air columns continue to vibrate for a short time, releasing the residual sound waves of thunder. Occasionally, lightning appears without a thunder clap because the sound wave occurred too far away to be heard.

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Related Questions

  • Q:

    Why is lightning seen before thunder is heard?

    A:

    The reason people see lightning first before hearing thunder is related to the speeds of light and sound. The speed of light, which is approximately 190,000 miles per second is much faster than the speed of sound at 1,000 feet per second.

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  • Q:

    Are lightning and thunder the same thing?

    A:

    Thunder and lightning are not the same phenomenon, though both are caused by the same event. As a cloud equalizes its electric charge with the ground, the current must pass through a column of air. Air is not a perfect conductor of electricity, so some of the energy is lost to heat as the charge travels downward. An observer experiences this visually as lightning and audibly as thunder.

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  • Q:

    Why do you hear thunder one or more seconds after you see the lightning?

    A:

    Both lightening and thunder occur at the same time, but the sound of thunder is heard after lightening is seen because light travels faster than sound. While lightening may be seen for miles, thunder is seldom heard beyond a 10-mile radius.

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  • Q:

    How is thunder formed?

    A:

    Thunder is formed as air heats up and expands when lightning occurs. The rate of expansion is so fast that the air vibrates, causing sound waves. Since light travels faster than sound, lightning is seen before thunder is heard.

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