Scotland’s weather: What causes thunder? Can we tell how far away lightning is? Are thunderstorms dangerous?

Scotland, famed for its unpredictable weather, has lived up to its reputation this week as scorching heat turned to dramatic thunderstorms and lightning sweeping across the country.

The hot weather with soaring temperatures came to an end on Sunday night with spectacular storms taking over including intense thunder, lightning and rain.

Weather forecasters predict the thunder and lightning will persist as a ‘yellow weather warning’ is put into effect across the UK.

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How does thunder and lightning happen?

A 'yellow warning' has been issued as Scots can observe lightning strikes in real-time over the week.

Lightning is the visible spark of electrical energy in the sky, and thunder is the sound that results from lightning passing through the air.

Both phenomena occur due to this large-scale natural discharge of electrical energy.

Lightning happens when the attraction between negative charges (electrons) and positive charges (protons) is intense enough that it results in this electrostatic discharge.

These opposite charges can occur within thunderstorm clouds or between clouds and the ground which can be seen when lightning bolts strike the Earth’s surface.

The Vue Cinema in Inverness experienced intense leaking from the ceiling due to heavy downpours.

Why do more thunderstorms occur after hot weather?

Thunderstorms often occur after hot weather like heatwaves because the atmosphere is “unstable”, according to a spokesperson for the Met Office.

The ‘ingredients’ needed for thunderstorms include an ‘unstable atmosphere’ and a temperature structure where warm air exists with cold air above it.

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This weather layout, common during a heatwave, sees warm air rise, mix with the cool air above it, condense, and so create unstable air with plenty of moisture - thus triggering thunderstorms.

How can you tell how far away lightning is?

According to, we can estimate the distance of lightning with a simple equation.

If you count the seconds between the spark of lightning and the following sound of thunder, then divide by 5, you will have the distance in miles from the lightning.

For example, 5 seconds = 1 mile, 20 seconds = 4 miles, and 0 seconds = nearby (especially in this case count from a safe location.)

Are thunderstorms dangerous?

Thunderstorms are dangerous because they include high winds, lightning, and heavy rain that can cause flash floods, presenting the risk of property damage or causing other accidents.

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The Met Office implemented a warning for Scotland and Northern Ireland until 11:59PM (Monday) and until 11:59PM for England and Wales (Tuesday) due to the turn to inclement weather.

Drivers must be careful as excess water may cause vehicles to slip and slide.

Simon Williams, a road safety expert for RAC, said: “When roads or conditions have been so dry, flash floods are going to appear and cause a danger to drivers.”

Meanwhile, the ceilings of a Tesco supermarket and cinema in Inverness have collapsed due to heavy downpours, as this could happen anywhere extreme caution is advised country-wide.

How can I track lightning strikes in Scotland?

Scots should experience lightning strikes and thunderstorms in real-time as the weather phenomena sweeps the country.

For location details, online tools that track real-time lightning can be used to show where lightning strikes are flashing in your area or across the world.

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To view this information on a map, try the weather tracking radar provided by Meteoradar UK.