Weather Library > Sferics - Radio Lightning Detection
Lightning doesn't only make light and sound. The discharges also produce radio waves called sferics. Chances are you've heard them on the radio while listening to a baseball game or talk show on a somewhat distant AM station. Sferics play a large role in lightning detection and mapping device technology currently in use around the world.
Sferics can turn any AM radio into a simple lightning detection device. They are easily distinguished from normal static in that they are sudden loud, crackling noises, sounding a little like someone wringing a wad of plastic bubble wrap. They occur simultaneously with any lightning discharge. Especially at night, your AM radio can pick up waves from lightning hundreds of miles away.
AM Radio Detection Tips
The next time your family vacation drive takes you near or through a thunderstorm, turn on the AM radio. See if you can identify the sferics and estimate the distance to the lightning that created it. Watch for the flashes in the sky while you hear them on the radio at the same time.
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