What Is Heat Lightning?

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By By Steve Pool

SEATTLE - Many people in the Midwest and East Coast have probably heard the term "heat lightning" refer to a type of lightning that occurs on hot, summer days that doesn't have any thunder associated with it.

However, heat lightning really doesn't exist -- at least, not as a special kind of lightning. The reason you would not hear the thunder is simply because the lightning strike was too distant for you to hear it.

Light can travel much greater distances than sound, so if the lightning bolt is far enough away (say, over 10 miles), you'll see the flash, but the air will have long absorbed the sound of thunder before it reaches you. Areas with trees or city buildings can also help absorb the sound before it reaches 4-5 miles away.

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Evening rainbow from Queen Anne using fisheye lens, 17 April 2014
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A large rainbow formed over the ferry Wenatchee while headed from Bainbridge Island to Seattle.