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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