The difference between thunder and lightning is that lightning is electromagnetic energy and thunder is sonic energy. Lightning actually causes thunder by rapidly heating and expanding the air around the path of the strike, explains a Library of Congress website.Continue Reading
Lightning is a flow of electrons between the earth and the atmosphere, and thunder is the sound made when those electrons interact with the surrounding air. When lightning strikes, it heats the surrounding air to nearly 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit in less than a second. This causes the air immediately around the path of the lightning bolt to expand to over 100 times higher than normal atmospheric pressure. This rapid expansion of air creates a pressure wave and the audible sound known as thunder.
Since thunder and lightning are two different forms of energy, they travel at predictable speeds through the same medium. Using this relationship, the distance from a given lightning strike to an observer is roughly estimated by counting the elapsed time, in seconds, between the strike and the resulting thunder. Each five-second interval that passes after a lightning strike is approximately equivalent to five miles of travel for the sound wave. Another good indicator of the distance from a given lightning strike is the volume of the accompanying thunder, as the volume of the thunder increases as lightning strikes become closer to the listener.Learn more about Storms
The air surrounding a bolt of lightning heats up so rapidly that it forces the air to quickly expand, creating the sound of thunder. Lightning can instantly heat the air to over 48,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which doesn't give the air time to expand naturally.Full Answer >
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.Full Answer >
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.Full Answer >
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.Full Answer >