Difference Between Lightning and Thunder

Lightning vs Thunder

Lightning and thunder are two very common occurrences that are not only interrelated but also happen along the same time. Both are natural phenomena that were long believed to be some sort of punishment for people from the Gods. It was left to scientist Benjamin Franklin to explain the two natural events in the end of the 19th century. There are similarities and overlap between lightning and thunder that confuse lots of people. This article attempts to differentiate between lightning and thunder that are two events taking place during a thunderstorm.

When a thunderstorm takes place, thunder is the sound of the bursting clouds while lightning is the form of electricity that is visible in the skies. As there is a huge difference between the velocity of light and sound, it is lightning that is seen first, whereas thunder can be heard much later. Thunder is the sound that is made by the clouds that also produce electricity at the same instant. So the most basic difference between thunder and lightning is that thunder is sound whereas lightning is a visual phenomenon that can be seen. However, what remains a fact is that it is lightning that produces thunder and not vice versa.


Electricity is formed inside dark clouds high up in the skies because of water drops and ice crystals rubbing and colliding against each other. Static electricity is generated with positive charges accumulating at the top of the clouds whereas negative charges gathering at the bottom. Earth is also positively charged, and it is a principle of electricity that when the difference between charges becomes too large, electricity starts to flow. This happens as charges get neutralized and flow of electricity starts. Flow of electricity is seen in the form of sheet lighting when electricity remains within the cloud and in the form of a fork when electricity flows from the clouds to the ground surface.


Lightning also generates a lot of heat and the air surrounding this electricity can get heated up to 30000 degrees Centigrade. Such heated air expands in a violent manner resulting in a rumbling sound that is also called thunder. The loud sound of thunder was a matter of curiosity for human beings, and different cultures had different explanations for the rumbling sound called thunder. American Indians were of the belief that thunder was caused by the flapping of the wings of a bird called thunderbird. Norse mythology says that thunder is a result of the thunder god Thor wielding his hammer. People believed that thunderbolts were a result of this welding of hammer. But today we know that it is actually the lightning that causes thunder. As electricity travels towards the ground, it actually creates a hole in the air and moves inside a channel but soon the air collapses producing a rumbling sound.

Lightning vs Thunder

• Lightning and thunder are interrelated events in a natural phenomenon that generates electricity.

• Lightning is seen first as speed of light is much faster than the speed of sound.

• Thunder is a loud rumbling sound whereas lightning is a visual.

• Thunder is a result of lightning as electricity travels in air.

• Lightning is a very large spark of electricity that raises the temperature of the air around itself up to 30000 degrees Centigrade.

• The vibrations of air as electricity travels through it cause a loud sound called thunder.