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No. 65: Sep-Oct 1989

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Unusual Sounds Preceding Lightning

May 13, 1989. Austin, Texas.

About 8 PM, during an intense thunderstorm, P. Gunkel heard a whistling sound, like that made by a descending firework rocket. A general pinkish brightening of the surroundings accompanied the sound. Half a second after the sound ceased, there was a tremendous clap of thunder. Discussions with neighbors within 1 hour of the event, elicited additional data: one said that it sounded like rocks falling through the air; another heard a strange humming sound from a windowpane for 2 seconds prior to the lightning; yet another spoke of a sound like that of a whistling tea kettle, but with an ascending pitch; and a fourth actually saw the lightning strike the street about 500 feet away.

(Gunkel, Patrick; personal communication, May 13, 1989.)

Comment. The most common sound heard prior to nearby lightning strikes is a "vit" sound, or a sound like fabric tearing. Such sounds are thought to be caused by brush electrical discharge from nearby objects as the atmospheric electrical field intensifies. See GLL10 in Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights. For details on this book, visit: here.

From Science Frontiers #65, SEP-OCT 1989. 1989-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987