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What did I see in the sky?

What did I see in the sky?


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Is there such thing as an atmospheric static discharge? While down in Southern Utah last year for a week long river expedition we witnessed on several nights what seemed to be lightning with no lightning bolt. Each night we prepared for rain but it never came. The 3rd night we noticed the same as the prior 2 nights but realized this time that there were no clouds around. I have spent many years in that area and have witnessed this before. This time however is the only time I have been down there during the summer months. I am trying to talk myself into believing it was a static discharge of some kind due to the heat.

Any help you can provide is appreciated.

Ryan in Draper **********************************************************

We get this question a lot in the summertime so let's put it to rest once and for all! Some people refer to this flash in the sky as "heat lightning". This is a terrible misnomer, it has nothing to do with the heat. What you saw, was a flash yes, and it might have even been warm outside, but it's from a thunderstorm that is far away.

Lightning does cause thunder, but if you are too far away, you won't hear the sound, you'll just see the flash. Thunderstorms often form during warm and humid conditions, this is probably where the name "heat lightning" comes from. The flashes have nothing to do with excessive heat what so ever. The flash can also reflect light off of other clouds, so you could have been seeing that light being reflected off of clouds far away from you even though you had no clouds over you.

Remember, isolated or even scattered thunderstorms can pop up, they don't need a ton of other clouds around them to form. Lightning can be seen from 100 miles away!!! But the sound of thunder only travels about 15 miles max (usually less). It sounds like this is what you were witnessing.

Answered by KSL Meteorologist Dina Freedman.

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