From Glossary of Meteorology
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(Also called atmospheric interference, strays, sferics.) The radio frequency electromagnetic radiation originating, principally, in the irregular surges of charge in thunderstorm lightning discharges.
Atmospherics are heard as a quasi-steady background of crackling noise (static) on certain radio frequencies, such as those used to broadcast AM radio signals. Since any acceleration of electric charge leads to emission of electromagnetic radiation, and since the several processes involved in propagation of lightning lead to very large charge accelerations, the lightning channel acts like a huge transmitter, sending out radiation with frequencies of the order of 10 kHz. Atmospherics may occasionally be detected at distances in excess of 3500 km (2000 mi) from their source. Advantage has been taken of this characteristic by using radio direction-finding equipment to plot cloud-to-ground lightning locations, and to locate active thunderstorm areas in remote regions and in-between weather reporting stations.