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06/11/2012

Heat Lightning ... REAL or FAKE???

During the summer, we were all taught as kids that those flashes of light late in the evening were heat lightning. I remember being told by my dad that heat lighting was lightning flashes in the upper part of the atmosphere caused by heat. The question is there really such a thing as heat lightning or is the whole concept fake?

 

Heat Lightning

 

The concept of heat lightning seems like one of those weather folk lores that is tough to explain. Let's look at how lightning forms and determine if lightning can just spontaneously form from heat.

 

What Causes Lightning???

 

Thunderstorms obviously have tons of rain and sometimes hail in them. When the hail and rain moves past each other, we get static electricity generated by the friction between the particles. The concept is very similar to you rubbing your feet (with socks) on the carpet. When you do this, you can sometimes generate enough static electricty to give yourself a shock when you touch a metal door knob. This is very similar to how the charge is generated as those rain drops and hail stones rub each other as they move around in the storm. If this storm has strong enough vertical motion, then you get lots of static charge generated in the storm and eventually you get electrical discharges known as lightning. What you notice is that you need a storm to generate the rain/hail as the prerequisite for lighting. Without a storm, you have no way to generate the necessary static electricity and no lightning.

 

Lightning 1 copyright

 

Lightning 2 copyright

 

Now that we understand there must be a storm, then quickly realize there is no such thing as heat lightning. Heat Lightning is fake.

 

What are those flashes you see on hot summer nights?

 

Heat cannot randomly generate lightning, so we know there must be a storm somewhere and that is where the explanation comes from. When a storm fires a distance away from you in the summer, you can get that light reflected and bounced around in the atmosphere which allows you to see the light. Since the storm is so far away, the sound is dissipated long before it gets to you. Heat lightning is nothing more than real lightning from a real storm that is just a long distance from you. When I say long distance, I am talking about 100 miles or so. The next time someone says that they are seeing heat lightning, you can tell them there is no such thing and they are just seeing real lightning in the distance!

 

Lightning 6 copyright

 

Lightning 5 copyright

 

 

 

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Comments

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but why is it pink and red light as oppossed to white light that lightening closer causes? Atmosphere refraction?

Derek, you hit the nail on the head! It is the refraction of the light through the atmosphere.

It's Fake, according to my old Meteorology Professor at Ball State University.

I remember being told the same thing about heat lightning by my uncle. Used to visit his farm in Tennessee as a kid and would see it alot. Could of been storms right here at home! Thanks for the explination. Take Care. Russell

"Heat lightning" is not defined as lightning caused by heat. It's defined as lightning caused by a distant thunderstorm on a warm summer night. You can check this at http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/heat%20lightning and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heat_lightning . So there IS a such thing as "heat lightning," but lightning is NOT caused by heat.

Bob, just because Webster defines something doesn't mean it is real. The entire concept of heat lightning is not real. Whether you see Louisville up close or 10 miles away, it is still the city of Louisville. The same goes for lightning... whether you see it 1 mile away or 50 miles away, it is still the same lightning.

Heat lighting is the colloquial term used, it does not mean it is fake!

A "shooting star" as you know is not really a star, nor has it been shot, it is also not fake, but it is a meteoroid. which is really a small particle from a comet or asteroid.

The visible streak of light from space debris is the result of heat as it enters a planet's atmosphere, and the trail of glowing particles that it sheds in its wake is called a meteor, but colloquially called a "shooting star" or "falling star" also not fake.

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