Why some thunderstorms sound louder

It's mainly due to your location

SwRI scientists compared long-exposure optical photographs of two different triggered lightning events (on top) with acoustically imaged profiles of the discharge channel (below), corrected for sound speed propagation and atmospheric absorption effects.
SwRI scientists compared long-exposure optical photographs of two different triggered lightning events (on top) with acoustically imaged profiles of the discharge channel (below), corrected for sound speed propagation and atmospheric absorption effects. (UF)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – If you ever wondered why some thunderstorms sound louder than others, most of the time, it has to do with your listening location.

Thunder is the acoustic shock wave resulting from the extreme heat generated by a lightning flash.

Our ears perceive thunder based upon the distance from lightning. The sound is loudest closest to the ground.

If you are unfortunate enough to be directly under a lightning strike, the thunder has a sharp, cracking sound.

Thunder varies as sound waves travel away from the bolt, resulting in a longer-lasting rumbling.

Lightning cooks air so fast that the blast expands air to 48,632°F, resulting in an explosion in every direction. The compressed airwaves crack with a loud, booming burst of noise.

Sound waves from a vertical lightning strike have higher decibel levels (red colors) close to the ground. (University of Florida)

Warmer summer temperatures promote faster sound waves, but beyond 10 miles, most thunder is not audible from its source.

Occasionally, the thunder is amplified louder during an inversion when warmer temperatures are over colder air at the surface.


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