Remember, remember the fifth of November: was that thunder I heard or not?

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Owens, M.J. (2016)

‘Thunder days’ are simple records of thunderstorm activity, logging whether a human observer heard thunder on a particular day or not. Despite their low dynamic range and inherent subjectivity, thunder days are invaluable as the only long-term observations of thunderstorm occurrence, with some records stretching back into the nineteenth century. Thunder days, however, are potentially susceptible to false positives, particularly from explosions. Thus one might expect UK thunder days to show anomalously high counts on New Year's Eve and the days around 5 November, Bonfire Night, both of which are celebrated with large firework displays across the country. It is demonstrated that UK Met Office records of thunder days between 1980 and 2010 do not show any significant increase in thunder reporting around 5 November or 31 December. In fact, the days around 5 November exhibit the largest reduction in the amount of reported thunder relative to annual climatology. While meteorological variability cannot be completely ruled out, this result is suggestive of observer bias; it is speculated that human observers, armed with a priori knowledge of the likelihood of false positives, ‘second guess’ themselves to a greater degree around 5 November than the rest of the year. In fact, the data suggest they should trust in their ability to correctly discriminate between thunder and fireworks.
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