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Epic thunderstorm sounds

Epic thunderstorm

Artist: George Vlad
Johannesburg, South Africa
Recommended charity: Reforestaction

Thunderstorm over Johannesburg, South Africa. One of the best (and loudest) thunderstorms I’ve ever experienced. (George Vlad, recording artist)

What causes epic thunderstorms?

Thunderstorms are caused by a combination of moisture and warm air. For example, sun-warmed ground can heat moist air, which, being less dense than the cooler, dryer air above it, starts to rise. 

As it does so, the water vapor cools, condensing into droplets of water and creating a cloud. The thundercloud can reach heights of 6.2 miles (10km), meaning that the water droplets in the highest reaches freeze and fall as hail or rain.

What causes lightning?

This precipitation falls through the cloud, becoming negatively charged by rubbing against smaller, positively charged ice crystals. A negative charge forms at the cloud’s base, where the hail accumulates, while lighter ice crystals create a positive charge higher in the cloud.

These charges create a voltage (potential difference) which can discharge as intra-cloud lightning: sheet lightning. The cloud’s negatively charge cloud’s base also repels electrons on the ground, meaning that a discharge can also take place as cloud-to-ground lightning. 

What causes thunder?

The abrupt heating (of up to 54,000 °F [30,000 °C]) and consequent expansion of air around the discharge causes a rippling shockwave: thunder. 

We perceive thunderclaps differently depending on distance, while rumbling thunder is caused by the sound waves reaching us at different times because of the lightning strike’s irregular shape. The lag between seeing lightning and hearing the thunder it generates is due to the greater speed of light compared to sound.

What is the loudest thunderstorm possible?

Thunder typically reaches volumes of 165 to 180 decibels, but has been recorded exceeding 200 dB in some cases. On occasion, at close range, the sound of thunder can even damage property.

Experienced from a few hundred feet, the volume of thunder will be around 120 dB, equivalent to a gunshot, an ambulance siren, or a jet taking off – loud enough to damage the human ear.

Are thunderstorms becoming more frequent due to the climate crisis?

Yes; the heating caused by climate change means that air can hold more moisture. Every 1 °C rise in temperature could equate to a 12% increase in lightning strikes. More epic rain and thunderstorms are in the post.

Though thunderstorms are most common in hot and humid areas (and on land rather than at sea), this is significant because they are also the major cause of natural wildfires.

Why listen to these epic thunderstorm sounds?

“When thunder roars, go indoors!” If this is not possible, descend from elevated areas; get away from bodies of water; separate from other people; and avoid tall structures, open vehicles, open structures, and open spaces. More detail here and here.

Once safe, listen to our recordings instead – you may even find them beneficial in terms of the ‘epic thunderstorms for sleeping’ trend. 

Other sound recordings you may like is a completely free streaming service of 700+ nature sounds from around the world, offering natural soundscapes and guided meditations for people who wish to listen to nature, relax, and become more connected.

Check out our recordings of nature ambience from sound recordists and artists spanning the globe, our thematic playlists of immersive soundscapes and our Wind Is the Original Radio podcast.

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