Stormy Weather: Thunder vs. Lightning

thunder, lightning, meteorology, citizen science, Eyewire, storm, weather

Do you love thunderstorms? Do you hate thunderstorms? Either way, they’re always quite the spectacle— and a great example of electromagnetic force in action! But what really makes the thunderstorm experience for you? Is it the rumbling, rolling thunder itself? Or are you more into the big flashes of lightning? Starting at 11 AM EDT on 7/11 and going for 24 hours, we’re having a showdown to decide the defining element of the thunderstorm experience!


  • Loud though it is, thunder is produced as a sonic shock wave by rapid air expansion when lightning is created; it’s just like the little “zap” of a static shock, but magnified!
  • If you’re right next to a lightning strike, the thunder can be as loud as 120 dB. Yet another reason to get inside when you hear it close by!
  • Counting the seconds between lightning and thunder really works! You can count 3 seconds per km (5 second per mile) to estimate how far a lightning strike happened.


  • Created when positive and negative charges in the atmosphere equalize, lightning is neither solid, liquid, nor gas; it’s the fourth state of matter, known as plasma.
  • How hot is plasma? It varies, but the core of a lightning bolt can exceed 50,000 Kelvin. You read that right… that’s 49,727°C, or 89,541°F!
  • Lightning is definitely not restricted to planet Earth. It’s been observed on Jupiter, Saturn, and possibly Venus as well!

For science!

Artwork by Zach Herman