Difference between Thunder and Lightning

By: | Updated: Nov-19, 2021
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The difference between thunder and lightning still confuses many people. In fact, there are some who think that both are exactly the same thing. In addition, there are also misleading uses of thunder in popular media and literature. The Norse god of thunder Thor, for example, is portrayed to have the power over lighting yet not a hint of thunder-based prowess.

Summary Table

Thunder Lightning
Produced from lightning Caused by electrically charged clouds
Scary, but has little potential to cause damage Known to be lethal and cause house fires


Thunder is invisible but is generally represented by lightning

According to national weather service, Thunder is the noise that is produced by and that follows lightning. It is characterized by a loud, rolling noise that seems to sweep across the sky. The sound of thunder is somewhat like successive sonic booms coming from planes passing by and is distinct and recognizable.

Lightning is widely used to represent thunder. This is because thunder is not visually perceptible, only aurally. Thunder is produced by lightning, so it makes perfect sense that it’s the closest representation. The sudden thermal expansion from the plasma produced by lightning is the reason why the roaring sound of thunder is produced.

Although it can be pretty scary, thunder isn’t particularly harmful. In rare instances, the worst it can do is temporarily damage hearing. This happens if lightning struck nearby, which means the clap of thunder is at its loudest and sharpest.

lightning strikes
Numerous lightning strikes

Lightning is one of the most awesome forces of nature. The zig-zagging path of highly concentrated bolts of electricity holds immense energy. Its surface is estimated to be several times hotter than the surface of the sun. Thankfully, it is relatively short-lived, which means it can only damage objects that it is able to make direct contact with.

Lightning is usually caused by the electrically charged parts of clouds. When two electrically charged clouds come into contact with one another, lightning is produced. If the lightning produced hits the ground, it’s called a “strike.” If the lightning is isolated among the clouds, it’s called a “flash of lightning.” In rare recorded cases, volcanic eruptions have caused lightning storms. But for the most part, it’s because of electrically charged regions of clouds.

The damage potential of lightning is unpredictable, especially since it’s difficult to determine where it will actually make contact with the ground. There have been a lot of recorded lightning strikes that hit people, yet some miraculously survived.

When lightning strikes an object, it causes heat and light which are visible as flashes of light called “lightning bolts”. When lightning strikes objects at high altitudes, they are often damaged by electric currents passing through them. This often causes objects to explode or catch fire, which then makes them burn brightly for a long time.

Lightning always travels along air currents (winds) which cause these air currents to form clouds known as thunderstorms. The more powerful the thunderstorm, the more electrical energy is released into the atmosphere and more air moves into it (the wind). These storms also release gases like nitrogen and oxygen into the atmosphere, which also increases the wind.

Thunder vs Lightning

So what’s the difference between thunder and lightning? Both of them manifest during a distinct atmospheric condition that’s characterized by dark clouds and foreboding heavy rains. But that’s practically where the similarity ends.

Lightning is the electrical discharge produced by the clash of electrically charged areas of two clouds. Thunder, on the other hand, is produced by lightning itself. One is the cause and the other is the effect.

Lightning travels at the speed of light, about 670,000,000 miles per hours. It is a tremendous electrical current, sometimes reaching tens of thousands of amperes. The lightning strike consists of a single stroke of the electric charge from the cloud to the ground. In contrast, thunder travels at the speed of sound, about 767 miles per hours. As light travels faster (in number of seconds) than sound, therefore, lightning flash is always seen before thunder can be heard.

How is a Lightning Bolt Formed?

A lightning bolt is a phenomenon that occurs when a large amount of electric charge flows from one point to another in a very short time. A lightning bolt is formed when a cloud builds up a large charge and emits a stream of electrical energy. This stream of energy is the result of a current of electrons flowing through the cloud from negative to positive ends. The process by which this charge is moved from one place to another within the cloud is called “conduction”. As the electrons flow from negative to positive ends, they travel in parallel paths at the same speed, causing the electrons to “clump” together. As these clumps move along at the same speed, they form long chains or sheets called “clouds” or “filaments”. These clouds or filaments have different shapes and sizes, but all have two surfaces: one facing positively charged ions and another facing negatively charged electrons. These surfaces are referred to as “ions” and “electrons” respectively.

How is this possible?

Conduction is due to many factors, but one that is very important for understanding how lightning bolts form are air gaps between ions and electrons. Air gaps are created when the positive and negative charges in a cloud or filament collide with each other. When they collide, they bounce off of each other and cause the ions and electrons to fly off in different directions. These particles are then left with air gaps between them, which means that the electrical energy is no longer being transmitted by these clouds or filaments.

When two clouds collide, one of them will tend to be “bounced” outwards by the collision while the other stays in place. If these clouds have an air gap between them, this air gap will be closed when one cloud moves away from the other one because it takes time for ions and electrons to get back to their original positions after being bounced around by collisions. This means that when these clouds are near each other, there will be an electric field at their edges because all the charged particles are near each other. As they move away from each other due to collisions with air molecules, the electric field at their edges will also move away from each other since it takes time for them to get back to their original positions again. When this happens, there will be less electric field at their edges and the ions and electrons will begin to move towards each other again. This process will continue until the two clouds merge and one of them is pushed outwards by the collision. As this happens, there will be less electric field at their edges and the ions and electrons will move away from each other again. This process will continue until the two clouds merge and one of them is pushed outwards by the collision.

What causes thunder?

Thunder is one of the most prominent sounds in nature. Thunder is produced by the collision of electrically charged particles. Thunder is also known as lightning, which is also produced by electrically charged particles colliding.

What are these electrically charged particles? They are the positive and negative ions in the air, which are accelerated by electrical currents. When these ions collide with each other, they produce sound waves that are then transmitted to our ears.

There are two types of thunderstorms: Cumulonimbus clouds and Stratocumulus clouds. Stratocumulus clouds produce little or no sound because they have no thunderstorm activity, while Cumulonimbus clouds have thunderstorm activity. Both of these types of clouds contain many tiny water droplets, which are electrically charged by the sun’s rays during their formation process. These water droplets create a thin layer on top of the cloud, causing it to act like a capacitor when an electrical current passes through it. This creates positive and negative charges on either side of the cloud and causes them to become negatively or positively charged respectively. This causes positive charges to accumulate on the top of the cloud and negative charges to accumulate on the bottom of the cloud. When these charges are balanced, they are referred to as being neutral. If they are not balanced, then they will accumulate further on one side or the other until one side accumulates more positive or negative charges than the other. This causes a storm to form, which is what we call thunderstorms.

Cumulonimbus clouds have two types of thunderstorms: Lightning storms produce large amounts of sound energy, but do not produce lightning bolts. They are usually visible as streaks or flashes of light in satellite images, or by watching for them with binoculars from an airplane. Heavy rainstorms have little sound energy because their thunderstorm activity has weakened considerably. If you listen closely, you can hear thunder rumbling under heavy rain showers that are just starting up. The sound comes from water droplets that hit each other in the air when there is little wind present. Thunder can also be heard during hail storms when hail gets too heavy for air currents to blow it away. Thunder is also heard during extreme weather conditions, such as hurricanes, tornadoes where winds are blowing at more than 90 miles per hour.

Stratocumulus clouds produce little or no sound because they have no thunderstorm activity. They are usually visible as dark, gray clouds that do not produce any sound.

Lightning bolts travel along the ground through the air. The bolts hit the ground before they strike anything else, so they cause loud sounds when they hit the ground. They also cause very loud sounds when they hit things like trees or houses. If you hear a loud sound in your house that you know is not coming from outside, then it is probably lightning striking nearby.

There are many kinds of thunderstorm clouds, including convective thunderstorms, frontal thunderstorms, cumulonimbus clouds and stratocumulus clouds. Convective thunderstorms are ones that contain warm air rising up to meet cold air descending from higher altitudes. These storms produce light rain showers but little or no lightning activity. Frontal thunderstorms are ones that form at the front of a cold front, and they produce light rain showers and little or no lightning activity.


Lightning is an electrical discharge from the atmosphere. A lightning bolt can be as small as a single spark, or as large as a full-fledged forest fire. It usually consists of a descending column of hot, charged air called a thundercloud that produces a lightning strike. The most famous of these thunderstorms are the “thunderstorms” which can be seen in almost every corner of the world during summer months. Lightning travels at the speed of light, so the time it takes to travel from the sky to the ground is extremely short. A lightning bolt can strike within one-millionth of a second. Lightning also produces sound waves. These are very high-pitched sounds that are sometimes heard even when no thunderstorm is present. These sounds are called “thunder” and are produced by the lightning’s charge buildup in the atmosphere. In short, lightning is the visible flash of a spark and thunder is the sound. Thunder is caused by a shock wave that is turned into a booming sound wave by lightning, while the lightning flash is caused by the return stroke.

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