Lightning and Thunder, how does it happen ?

Thunder and Lightning bolt is one of the scary actions of nature. It is so prominent and Dangerous also. Worldwide around 2000 people get killed by this each year and thousands more survive the strike but get injured severely by it. Apart from this many trees, buildings, electrical and electronics instruments become damaged due to the high electric charge and extreme heat of Lightning Bolt. So this is always furious and disastrous for us. Science has explored so many facts and figures about thunder and Lightning strike.


We also need to know what are those things, How does it happens and How to protect our houses as well as ourselves from this. Here we will discuss everything about Lightning that one must come to know about.

What is Lightning and How does it occurs?

 It is an electrical discharge of extremely high electricity. The strike or the propagation of charge occurs between Cloud to Ground (called Cloud to ground Lightning) ,  between two clouds (called Cloud to cloud Lightning), between two regions of a single cloud (called Intra cloud Lightning). Some horizontal lines of sparks that we see is not cloud to ground discharge, It’s cloud to cloud or intra cloud Lightning.

  • Lightning strike can carry 30,000-50,000 Amps current and 300 Killo Volt per hour energy.
  • It can generate temperature of 54,000 degrees Fahrenheit. It is roughly five times hotter than the surface of Sun.

Mechanism behind Lightning (How does the clouds get charged)

Due to temperature of sun light water in the earth surface gets vaporized, the light, warm, moist air particles start moving upwards. It goes at a height of 2-7 km in the atmosphere and get cooled and condensed there and forms clouds. As the temperature start decreasing with increasing height from earth surface the rising air reaches its dew point temperature, water vapor condenses into water droplets or ice. The upper part of cloud becomes more condensed and ice pellets form there called graupel (soft hail) and as it’s big in size with some countable weight it starts falling downwards. So in the same time two different movements in a cloud takes place, i.e the small ice droplets moves upwards and the graupel of cloud moves downwards.

Cloud charge-1

At the middle part of the cloud the rising ice crystals collide with the downward falling graupel and as a result of collision and friction the ice crystals lose electrons from it and become positively charged and the graupels acquire some extra electrons from the crystals and become negatively charged.

cloud charge-2

And then so many positively charged crystals get stored at the upper part of the cloud and the negatively charged graupels come to the lower part of the cloud. It makes the cloud bipolar, i.e a part of the cloud becomes positively charged and another part become negatively charged.

cloud charge-3


We know that earth surface is positive and can neutralize any number of electrons come in contact with it. A very high potential difference get created between the earth surface and the lower part of the cloud which is highly charged. Charge has a tendency to flow towards lower potential region when any two points of different potential regions get connected by a conductor.  Here due to the extremely high electric potential difference, the air between the lower part of the cloud and the earth ground get ionized and start conducting the charges. And this is when heavy amount of charges flow from the cloud to the ground through a narrow channel and we can see the path illuminating as a Lightning bolt. The charge of the cloud flows to the ground and the cloud gets neutralized. This type of Lightning is cloud to ground.

Cloud charge and Lightning



If the charge flows from the part of a cloud which is negatively charged (Lower part of a cloud) to the part of a cloud which is positively charged (upper part of a cloud) then also a lightning bolt sparks. This is called cloud to cloud lightning.

What is Thunder and How does it occurs?

Thunder is the sharp and loud sound we hear after the lightning. This sound can be very loud or lower depends upon the distance where the lightning is struck from you.

Mechanism behind Thunder (How does this loud sound generate)

Greek philosopher Aristotle said in the fourth century BC that the sound generate due to the massive collision of two clouds. But this theory is rejected by modern science. The accepted theory is, this Thunder sound is created by the lightning bolt when it propagate through the air of the atmosphere. As the temperature generated by lightning bolt is so high (Five times more than the temperature of sun surface) the pressure in the air around the hot lightning channel suddenly increases. It causes expansion and vibration in the air around the channel. This expansion in the air creates sonic shock wave very similar to a sonic bomb that produces loud pealing thunder sound.


Why Thunder follows the lightning?

 The Lightning and the thunder both occurs at same time. But we hear the thunder after few seconds of sighting the Lightnings. Or you may say thunders follow the Lightnings. This is because the speed at which Light travels in air is 299,792,458 meters per second. The speed at which sound travels in air is 343 meters per second. So both the thunder and Lightning commence at a time. But the light of a lightning bolt travels to you faster than the sound of the thunder associated with that lightning.

Lightning Safety Tips

If you are out of home(Outdoor safety)

  • Avoid touching machinery.
  • Avoid high grounds or open area.
  • Do not stand under a tall objects or a tree, do not swim.
  • Find shelter in buildings or get inside a car if you are on the road.
  • Do not carry umbrella or any metal rod.
  • Crouch down and cover your ears if it struck near by.

If you are at home(Indoor safety)

  • Stay away from windows
  • Do not use phone or any electrical or electronics device.
  • Do not take bath under tap water or wash dishes.
  • Avoid leaning on wall.
  • Switch Off the maid board to cut out the electricity of home.

Try to follow all of these tips to be safe.


Hope these information will be helpful for you. Thank you.

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