Thunderstorms can be a pain in the ass when you are trying to sleep, or they can be very dangerous. I will explain why and how and other topics about about thunderstorms.
- Why we have Thunderstorms
- How Thunderstorms develop
- Thunderstorm season
- Types of Thunderstorms
- What NOT to do
Why we have Thunderstorms
With out rain, crops won’t grow and our lawns will turn brown due to the fact there is no rain. The main reasons we have thunderstorms is first to get precipitation to the earth’s surface, and to balance our climate because sometimes there is too much moisture or heat, so thunderstorms release the excess heat, moisture and unstable air.
How Thunderstorms Develop
Thunderstorms need three ingredients to form, moisture, heat and unstable air. Moisture can come from the Gulf of Mexico, and the heat comes from no other than the sun as it heats up the earth’s surface and brings us warmth. Unstable air is when cool air combines with warm air. When all of these ingredients are in place, the unstable air starts to raise and forms clouds. When the air goes high in the atmosphere to the point where the air becomes super cooled the moisture inside the cloud starts to form rain drops. If the storm continues to raise, the rain will get heavier and there will be thunder and lightning if some of the ice crystals at the top of the storm give off an electric charge.
Note that thunderstorms can happen at anytime of the year, but this map shows the month where thunderstorms are most likely. The general thunderstorm season across the country is between March and mid October. But like I said, thunderstorms can happen at anytime of the year.
Types of Thunderstorms
This is a radar picture of a supercell. Supercells are stand alone storms, and they are small with 10 miles in diameter. Don’t think that since these storms are nothing because they are so small, supercells are the main producers of tornadoes.
Squall lines usually form when a front comes through the area. These storms are very fast, but their main threat is heavy rain and strong winds. The line of storms can last for hundreds of miles, but the storms themselves can be around 10-20 miles wide. There are good things and bad things about these types of thunderstorms. The bad things are the heavy rain and very strong winds, but the good thing since they are moving really fast they will be over before you know it.
As you can see in this radar image there is an extension of the storm, that kinda looks like a comma. This is called a bow echo, and these are really dangerous since if you are hit by the bow echo itself, you are going to get some very strong winds. This can happen with in squall lines.
Sometimes there are a complex of thunderstorms, it can either be a mass, lines of thunderstorms and cells of thunderstorms. If the energy is there, these storms can be severe, but I call them a ‘mess’ since they don’t seem to have any organization at all. These are the most common type of thunderstorms, but know that any thunderstorm can bring wind, hail and tornadoes so always be on alert.
Since every storm has updrafts and downdrafts to fuel them, sometimes the downdrafts can produce damage. A Microburst is when a storm suddenly produces a strong downdraft reaching the earth’s surface. The winds can go to 100MPH and some people confuse microbursts with tornadoes because microbursts are so intense and the wind so strong people think that it is a tornado. Microbursts can cause a lot of damage, I remember when I was a young child, just moved to the United States and there was a microburst. My oldest brother picked me up to take me away from the windows as I started to cry. I remember that the winds were so strong the trees were leaning to the side. Microbursts can be scary, but they don’t last very long but they can cause massive damage. My parents thought it was a tornado, until when they were watching the evening news they learned it was a microburst.
Since thunderstorms have updrafts and downdrafts they carry electric charges. Lightning occurs when positive electrical charges hit negative electric charges and they give off a huge bolt of electricity. Lightning can be up to 18,000 degrees F. Thunder often fallows lighting, and this is because when lighting hits air it’s heat the air rapidly expands and creates the sound of thunder. There are different types of lighting, cloud to itself, when the lighting goes back to itself. Then there is cloud to cloud lightning, where a lighting bolt goes from one cloud to another. Cloud to ground lighting is when lighting strikes the earth’s surface. Remember, if you hear thunder go inside, lighting can strike 20 miles out of a storm.
What NOT to Do
- When you hear thunder, don’t stay outside, lighting can strike you
- Do not go into an open field, you can be a lightning rod
- Do not take cover of a tree, lighting likes to hit trees
- Do not use your cellphone outside during a thunderstorm
- Do not stand in water during a thunderstorm
Here is a story that just amazed me. My family went to a public pool when we heard thunder, and we were getting out of the water. Then there was a man standing in the shallow part of the kiddie pool, talking on a cellphone. He was speaking in a language that I didn’t understand, and he continued to talk on the phone when we could see the lightning and he was still on the phone when the storm hit. I was thinking to myself ‘what is this guy thinking? He is making himself a lighting rod with a heartbeat’. Luckily for him, he was not a victim of a lightning strike.