MadSci Network: Earth Sciences

Re: Why isn't there always thunder with lightening?

Date: Wed Aug 18 22:02:30 2004
Posted By: Nezette Rydell, forecaster,National Weather Service
Area of science: Earth Sciences
ID: 1092331290.Es

Lightning always produces thunder however there are a number of reasons why
we may not hear it.  

Distance:  As with other sounds, thunder fades as the sound wave moves
through the air.

Dissipation:  Sound waves may bend upward (or downward) as they travel and
not reach you even though you can see the lightning from which they
initiated.  The thunder clap may also dissipate within the chaos of the
thunderstorm itself leaving decreasing the horizontal distance over which
it can be heard.  

Environment:  A sound wave bends when traveling through air with  different
temperatures. Thunderstorm clouds may be up to 12 miles high and envelope
temperatures from 80 degrees at the surface to -20 or less at the top.  

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