Is ‘heat lightning’ a real thing?

The Weather Authority

Lightning from a distant storm/Jeff Horton

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Summer is the time of year when a lot of old weather lore and misconceptions come to the surface, and one of the biggest misunderstandings of all has to be the phenomenon of ‘heat lightning.’

All lightning comes from a thunderstorm, but you can see that lightning many miles away from a storm when the sky is clear (clear away from the storm, of course).  How far?  Depending on visibility conditions, you can see lightning from as far as 150 to 200 miles away on a dark summer night.

Adam Boyd sent these photos of some distant lightning seen from Elkmont Friday evening:

So where was the storm?  Why was there no thunder?

It was about 27 miles east of Elkmont in northeastern Madison County!  Thunder is only audible for roughly 10 miles away from the lightning strike, so we Adam could see the light easily but couldn’t hear thunder because he was too far away.

Heat lightning?  Not exactly.  It’s just regular lightning!

By the way, that 10-mile thunder thing is an important nugget to remember.  If you can hear thunder, you’re close enough to the storm to be struck by lightning!  Remember the slogan: “when thunder roars, go indoors!”

Track heavy storms with’s Interactive Radar or swipe over to the radar feature on Live Alert 19!

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