Determining the distance of a thunderstorm is relatively easy to do if you know some simple information (and of course math), this is just a basic guess of how far the storm is, as there are many factors that could change this, for example temperature and humidity can affect how fast sound can travel, and the speed will increase The official speed of sound is 331.3 meters per second, which turns out to about 1087 feet per second, or simply, 770 mph.
The speed of light is almost instantaneous (instant to our eyes at least), this is why you can see it before you hear the thunder. The speed of light travels at about 300,000,000 meters per second, exponentially faster than the speed of sound. Knowing what these basic values helps one calculate the distance of a storm.
Essentially, it takes about 5 seconds for sound to travel one mile, and 3 seconds for sound to travel one kilometer. Of course, if you can’t count seconds exactly, it would be pretty difficult to get even a guess of the distance. Count too fast, and you could be off about 1/2 a mile to as many as 2 miles. So a clock or stopwatch would probably be useful when trying to do this. If you can get the exact timing correct, this can be a fairly accurate way to predict distance. Alternatively, you can say “one-one thousand, two-one thousand…etc”, just try to be careful about how long your second lasts. Everyone has a different speed that they’re used to counting, and that’s usually too fast if anything.
You can evenly calculate the speed of which the storm is going and even the direction if you use some common sense. For example, if you count that there are 10 seconds between the light and thunder, you can estimate that it is about 2 miles away. Now if you do this again 30 minutes later, and it takes you 15 seconds, the storm is moving away from you (at a very slow rate). These numbers are just used as examples, in reality; the storm is probably moving much faster than 5 mph. At the same time, if you try to count and can barely get to “one-onetho-“ before being cut off by the thunder, you can bet that it’s right above you, or within a block!
Another thing you can try to see if there is an incoming storm is as simple as drinking coffee. In the morning, stir your coffee and create some bubbles. Because the bubbles are made of air, they (as well as the liquid coffee) will react to the surrounding pressure system. The result is they move to the tallest point available. So what does this mean exactly, and how do we use this information to come up with a forecast prediction?
If the bubbles move towards the center of the cup, you are in a high pressure system, which means it should be a fairly nice day. The higher pressure system makes the coffee convex have a convex shape a little bit. If you’ve ever taken a science class, and looked at a meniscus, you’ll understand how liquid can form shapes like that be in a container. Now if the bubbles form a ring along the edges of the mug, this is indicative of a low pressure system. The liquid is forming a concave shape, much like a glasses lens. Which means you will most likely see some precipitation. Of course this is nothing compared to the accuracy of a barometer, but it is fairly close. Bet you never thought your morning coffee could function as a barometer?