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How Far Away Is Lightning? (Simulation)

“How far away is that lightning?" WebApp Courtesy of the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies (CIMSS), Copyright© 2003, 2011, 2013 by Tom Whittaker, S.V. Medaris, and Steve Ackerman.

Ever wonder how far away a thunderstorm is? You can figure it out by counting the seconds between seeing the lightning and hearing the thunder! It takes about 5 seconds for a sound wave from thunder to travel 1 mile. Test out this distance measuring technique with our simulation.

In this simulation, you can move the cartoon person closer to or farther away from the storm cloud. You’ll notice that the closer you are to the storm, the fewer the seconds between the thunder and lightning.

After you’ve played with the simulation for a while, try out this brain teaser: Knowing that the sound of thunder travels a mile in about 5 seconds, what is the speed of the sound in miles per hour?

Click here to learn what causes lightning and thunder!