Difference Between Lightning and Thunder

A storm is a meteorological phenomenon that consists of the violent change of the atmosphere and that includes strong winds and precipitation. In addition, the storm is often accompanied by strong electrical discharges, thunder or hail showers.

In this article we point out the differences that exist between lightning and thunder, based on the definitions of each of these phenomena in order to dispel possible doubts that exist between both terms.


Lightning is defined as an electrical discharge that occurs in a short period of time. This is generated by the union of the positive charges of the clouds that attract the negative charges and when they collide, the electrical charges are transferred through the particles of water and ice that the clouds contain.

The rays are produced in vertically developing clouds called cumulonimbus, reaching an intermediate point between the troposphere and the stratosphere. For lightning to occur (electrical discharge), there must be differences in the voltage or electrical charge of the clouds. In the same way, lightning produces light and sound, they are very powerful discharges that can reach a length of more or less 1500 meters and their main characteristic is that they reach the ground, this differentiates it from lightning, which is produced in the same way. way but does not reach the ground.

The lightning can reach a very high speed of up to 200,000 km/h and can heat the air around it up to 30,000 °C. Due to intense heating, the air spreads at a greater intensity and speed, generating the sound wave and luminosity, and since light spreads through the air at an approximate speed of 340 m/s, the luminosity is observed first and then the light is perceived. sound.


Thunder is defined as the sound effect produced by or associated with lightning. This is produced by the intensity of the heating of the air around the lightning, which, upon reaching more than 28,000 °C and traveling at high speed (approximately 200,000 km/h), collides with the surrounding cold air, causing a drastic decrease in its temperature and contracting producing sound.

Thunder is the noise that is formed by the rapid expansion and contraction of gases, among which is oxygen. The sudden changes in temperature cause the pressure of these gases to vary suddenly, creating shock waves that give rise to the scandalous sound.

It should be noted that, when sound propagates through the air at a speed of approximately 330 m/s, the sound is heard a little after the electric discharge.

Having pointed out the concepts of lightning and thunder, the following are pointed out as differences between them:

  • Lightning is the electrical discharge that is produced by the transfer of electrical charges in the clouds. Thunder is the sound effect of lightning.
  • Lightning is perceived visually and thunder is perceived aurally.
  • The lightning generates the heating of the air and the heating of the air generates the sound wave product of the shock with the cold air, therefore, the thunder is a consequence of the lightning.
  • Thunder and lightning occur simultaneously but first the light of the lightning is observed and a few seconds later the sound of the thunder, since light travels at a much faster speed (300,000 km/s) than sound (340 m/s). ).

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