Weather Facts and Weather Myths Part 3

By: Meteorologist Bill Rentschler Email
By: Meteorologist Bill Rentschler Email

Cheyenne, WY (KGWN) - We've all done it before, we've seen a flash of lightning and counted until we heard the thunder to figure out how far away a thunderstorm is. I know when I was a kid I would always get more and more excited as I counted less and the thunder got louder. I never questioned that one second equaled one mile though, so I talked with Senior Forecaster Shawn Liebl at the NWS here in Cheyenne and did a little math to find out more.

Sound travels at 1,087 feet per second, which is roughly 0.2 miles per second. If we say that "N" equals the number of seconds we count between the flash of lightning and clap of thunder, to get our true distance, we want to divide whatever number we get, "N", by 5, as Shawn Liebl tells us.

"...one way to tell how far lightning is away once it occurs is to count to five. So its called flash-bang, after 5 seconds, you hear the flash, you see the flash and after 5 seconds you hear the bang, that's one mile, so every 5 seconds is a mile."

The next topic I covered involved crickets. This topic sort of came out of left field, but it's pretty cool. Some people have said that you can count the number of chirps by a single cricket and that you can use that to calculate the temperature outside. I had never heard this before, so I went to the University of Wyoming and spoke with entomologist Scott Schell about it.

"...insect activity, because they are cold blooded is related to ambient temperature and so up to a certain point they'll be inactive, usually its 55 degrees for the crickets. They'll start to call when the temperatures are above that and then the calling frequency increases with increased temperature.... Well, it is a fact that, there's been scientific studies conducted that showed that the calling of the crickets is related to the temperature and then you can calculate your temperature based on that."

There are a couple different formulas depending on the species of cricket in question, but the general formula says that you count the chirps in a 14 second period and then add 40 to that number to get the temperature outside in Fahrenheit. A scientist named Amos Dolbear first discovered this connection back in the late 1800s.


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