Thunderstorm Facts & Causes
Thunderstorms are defined as storms that produce thunder and lightning. Severe thunderstorms may also produce:
- High winds
- Sleet or snow
It’s important to note that thunderstorms do not always produce moisture. A storm in which you see lightning and hear thunder but never feel a drop of water is known as a “dry” thunderstorm. Thunderstorms that produce hail and tornadoes are known as “supercell” storms. Storms occur either in clusters or lines; therefore, they may present as a single thunderstorm or as multiple thunderstorms hitting one after the other.
Thunderstorms are caused when moisture from the lower or mid-level part of the atmosphere mixes with warm, unstable air from the ground. Moisture and air then push upwards into the higher atmosphere to form clouds that produce thunder and lightning, as well as potential precipitation. Spring, summer and fall are most conducive to thunderstorms because the sun heats the ground and moisture is more perceptible in the air, especially in humid climates.
Thunderstorms must also be lifted to begin their formation. Some sources of lift include:
- More heat on the ground than in the air
- Changes in atmospheric conditions near mountains
- Weather front changes caused by clashing cold and hot air
- Drylines, or when moist and dry air clash
- Land or sea breezes
Any of these situations can immediately create a thunderstorm without warning, even in the middle of a clear blue day. In many cases, these storms will also be accompanied by lightning. Most will not come with hail or tornadoes, unless they occur in tornado-prone states such as Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Missouri.