The air surrounding a bolt of lightning heats up so rapidly that it forces the air to quickly expand, creating the sound of thunder. Lightning can instantly heat the air to over 48,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which doesn't give the air time to expand naturally.
The shape of a lightning bolt and the ground terrain affect the sound of thunder. Rolling thunder is created when the shock waves of a forked bolt bounce off each other, the nearby terrain and clouds. A single boom of thunder is often the result of a single, vertical bolt. However, not all lightning creates thunder. In 1885, the Washington Monument was struck several times, but observers didn't hear any thunder.Learn More
Thunder comes from the rapid movement of air in a lightning bolt. Due of the speed at which lightning bolts travel, the surrounding air does not have enough time to expand. This compressed air creates a shock wave similar to an explosion, causing thunder.Full Answer >
Both lightening and thunder occur at the same time, but the sound of thunder is heard after lightening is seen because light travels faster than sound. While lightening may be seen for miles, thunder is seldom heard beyond a 10-mile radius.Full Answer >
Although thunder and lightning occur at the same time, the lightning is seen before the thunder is heard because light travels at a much faster speed than sound. Sound waves can also bounce off molecules in the air, causing it to travel in different directions. This accounts for the distorted rumbling sound of distant thunder while thunder that is close by can be heard as a loud crack or booming sound.Full Answer >
Though it is theoretically possible to hear thunder and then see lightning, lightning actually causes thunder, so it has to come first. Thunder is the noise that's caused by the sound of the rapid expansion of air that gets suddenly heated by a bolt of lightning.Full Answer >