Why does thunder make noise?


Quick Answer

Greatly increased air pressure and temperature from lightning cause thunder to make noise. As lightning returns from the ground to the clouds, it superheats the air to nearly 50,000 F in an instant. That superheated air expands dramatically and releases a shock wave, creating thunder.

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Full Answer

It takes lightning a tiny fraction of a second to reach the ground and go back to the clouds, which is much faster than the speed of sound. Therefore, observers on the ground hear thunder coming from near the ground before they hear it booming from the clouds. Lightning with more than one branch creates a longer rumble of thunder. Thunder does not necessarily accompany lightning.

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