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VERIFY: No such thing as 'heat lightning.' Be ready to take cover.

'Heat lightning,' or heat absent from a storm, doesn't exist. The lightning is real lightning and comes from a storm too tall or too far away for you to hear.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — It's a frequent occurrence lately with these pop-up summer storms -- a flash of lightning, followed by a loud clap of thunder. 

But, what about lightning you see and don't hear? It's lightning that seems to stand alone, absent from a storm. It often gets the name 'heat lightning.'


This question came up on the WFMY News 2 weather network Facebook group. Does heat lightning exist? If not, what is causing it, and is it just as dangerous as lightning that accompanies a storm?



Both meteorologist Christian Morgan and the National Weather Service conclude 'heat lightning' is a misnomer. 

"It's just regular lightning," Morgan affirmed.

He explained, "We call it heat lightning, a lot, because we don't actually hear the clap of thunder or see that bolt of lightning, but we do see that flash in the sky, and that means lightning is close by."

A lot of what you see in a storm, he said, depends on your line of sight. If you are a long ways away from the storm, you can see only the tops of the clouds flashing.

Heat lightning "is just regular lightning. You're just a long ways away from it."

That said, it could be heading toward you at some point, so knowing lightning safety is key. The National Weather Service said remember the term -- "When thunder roars, go indoors." When you hear thunder accompanying the lightning, that means the storm is close enough to hurt you. So, stay indoors for 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder.

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False -- heat lightning doesn't really exist. It's regular lightning from a storm too tall or too far away for you to hear. But, it is dangerous, so be prepared to take shelter if the storm gets closer.

Do you have a VERIFY inquiry? Submit a post, screen shot or selfie video to Meghann Mollerus via:

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E-mail: Mmollerus@wfmy.com

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