Thunder and Lightning Facts

There are on average approximately 1,800 thunderstorms occurring at any one time around the world, with 100 lightning strikes per second. Find out more about Mother Nature's fireworks.



  • Electrical storms are formed when dense cold air overlies warm moist air.
  • Lightning is an atmospheric discharge which usually occurs during a rain storm but also frequently during volcanic eruptions.


  • Worldwide there are around 16 million thunderstorms each year. They are most frequent in tropical rainforests where they can be almost daily occurrences.
  • Here in the UK there is around a one in three million chance of being struck by lightning. Which are bigger odds than winning the Lottery!


  • What is thunder? A thunderclap is the audible energy discharge from a lightning flash. However, it is usually only audible afterwards because light travels faster than sound.
  • You can estimate how far away a bolt of lightning is by timing how many seconds later you hear the thunderclap. The lightning will be approximately one mile away for every five seconds. Thunder is rarely heard at distances of 15 miles or over.
  • Thunderclaps register at approximately 120 decibels. Three minutes of exposure can cause damage to the inner-ear resulting in permanent noise-induced hearing loss. In August 1771, a Scottish labourer who had been deaf for 20 years was said to be cured when he was struck by lightning.
  • Dogs can hear at much greater distances than their human owners so have an early audio warning of an approaching storm.


  • What should you do during a thunder storm? First things first, don't wave any metal rods around or stand under tall objects like trees.
  • Lightning travels to the earth through the shortest possible path, therefore any tall objects (such as you with an umbrella over your head) might provide that path.
  • However, you will be safe in a car due to it acting as a Faraday cage (or shield).


  • American Roy Sullivan holds the record for the person struck by lighting the most times. During his 35 year career as a park ranger he survived seven strikes and suffered various injuries, including losing his big-toenail.
  • The largest measured hailstone fell in Nebraska in 2003; the diameter was seven inches and the circumference over 18 inches.

Quick Facts

  • Small creatures such as fish and frogs can be sucked up within the strong updrafts of a thunderstorm and carried along before falling back to earth. In 1984 six-inch long fish fell on a London neighbourhood - some were still alive.
  • People with asthma are at greater risk of an attack during summer thunderstorms. Scientists have found that the hourly grass pollen counts recorded during a thunderstorm can be up to 12 times higher than usual.
  • The popular saying; Lightning never strikes twice in the same place is a myth. The Empire State Building is struck on average 100 times a year.
  • The irrational fear of thunder and lightning has various names: Astraphopia, Brontophobia and Keraunophobia to name a few.
  • If lightning strikes a sandy beach, it can turn a small portion of the sand into icicle shaped pieces of glass called fulgurites.
  • A lightning bolt travels at about 14,000 miles per hour and can heat the surrounding air to temperatures five times hotter than the sun.