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I got this photo during our visit to White Sands, and used the sound of the thunder with the Flash/Bang method to determine that the bolt was about two miles away. How does lightning produce thunder?


The boom of thunder is the result of expanding air. Anytime air expands rapidly, we hear a loud sound. This is true for a popped balloon, a firecracker, a gun shot, and many other bangs and booms.

As the lightning bolt passes through the air, it heats the air to as much as 60,000° F, in a fraction of a second. When air is heated, it expands, and when it is heated rapidly, it expands rapidly. The expanding air pushes on the air around it, causing a wave of compression to move outwards. When that wave hits your ear drum, the ear drum is vibrated, and you hear the sound of thunder.