BLOG: What is heat lightning?

Published: Jun. 16, 2015 at 2:39 AM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - If there's one thing I tend to get the most questions about, it's heat lightning.

I know I might break a lot of hearts here (especially my brother-in-law's) - but it's a myth.

Nope! No such thing as heat lightning.

I'm not sure where the name comes from. Perhaps it's the fact that thunderstorms tend to happen in the summer – when it's hot? Anyway, what you're seeing is actually just a normal thunderstorm that's really far away. It's so far away that the earth's curvature keeps us from being able to see the actual lightning strikes. We can just see some light from it. It's also too far away to hear the thunder.

Why can't we hear the thunder that far away? For one thing, sound travels much more slowly than light. You can't really hear it more than about 10 miles away. Plus, the distribution of hot and cold temps in a storm causes the sound waves to bend toward the sky - so they could be too far up for us to hear.

We can still see some light from the storm because it travels much faster than sound. You could possibly see lightning about 100 miles away.

So, these days, if you see heat lightning, well, you should just be jealous. It means someone else is getting the rain that you would probably like to be getting. The good news is that our rain chances go up by the end of the week.

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