The Silent Mysteries of Heat Lightning

It was 85 degrees already–both inside and out–when I woke up before 7 to take Ollie for a walk.  The heat was oppressive, and any movement in the air more akin to someone standing too close, breathing on your skin, than anything resembling a breeze.

Last night the sun went down but the temperature didn’t.  The air just kind of hung there in the darkness.  And around 10pm the lightning started.  I wish I had a video camera capable of capturing the scene, because it sounds like an exaggeration to describe it: constant flashes in a bank of clouds close to the northern horizon line, four or five a second, but with no accompanying thunder.  Just the sounds of crickets buzzing in the grass.

As I lay in bed struggling to sleep in the heat I started wondering about heat lightning and how it works.  We all know from elementary science that lightning is inextricably tied to thunder.  They’re separated in our minds only by the ability of light to race ahead of sound on its way to your ear.

So how can heat lightning be silent, I wondered. Well, it can’t.

It’s a little disappointing, really.  There’s no such thing as heat lightning.  It’s just regular old lightning, too far away for the accompanying thunder to be heard.  It doesn’t seem possible, because the lightning looked so close last night, just behind the trees!  But, according to the Farmers Almanac, “when the sky is hazy, as is quite typical on warm, summer nights, the light from intense thunderstorms as far away as 100 miles can be reflected off a layer of haze and up into the night sky.” So what looked just beyond the trees to me could well have been across the border in Quebec.

It makes perfect sense scientifically, but the part of me that still believes in what I learned in childhood thinks that lightning on hot nights has some silent magic.


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One Response to The Silent Mysteries of Heat Lightning

  1. emily says:

    I saw the same thing last night and was wishing so much for some accompanying rain. It was beautiful though.

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