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What is a thunderstorm?
A thunderstorm is a rain shower during which you hear thunder. Since thunder comes from lightning, all thunderstorms have lightning.
Why do I sometimes hear meteorologists use the word “convection” when talking about thunderstorms?
Usually created by surface heating, convection is upward atmospheric motion that transports whatever is in the air along with it—especially any moisture available in the air. A thunderstorm is the result of convection.
What is a severe thunderstorm?
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How many thunderstorms are there?
Worldwide, there are an estimated 16 million thunderstorms each year, and at any given moment, there are roughly 2,000 thunderstorms in progress. There are about 100,000 thunderstorms each year in the U.S. alone. About 10% of these reach severe levels.
When are thunderstorms most likely?
Thunderstorms are most likely in the spring and summer months and during the afternoon and evening hours, but they can occur year-round and at all hours.
Along the Gulf Coast and across the southeastern and western states, most thunderstorms occur during the afternoon. Thunderstorms frequently occur in the late afternoon and at night in the Plains states.
What kinds of damage can thunderstorms cause?
Many hazardous weather events are associated with thunderstorms. Under the right conditions, rainfall from thunderstorms causes flash flooding, killing more people each year than hurricanes, tornadoes or lightning. Lightning is responsible for many fires around the world each year, and causes fatalities. Hail up to the size of softballs damages cars and windows, and kills livestock caught out in the open. Strong (up to more than 120 mph) straight-line winds associated with thunderstorms knock down trees, power lines and mobile homes. Tornadoes (with winds up to about 300 mph) can destroy all but the best-built man-made structures.
Where are severe thunderstorms most common?
The greatest severe weather threat in the U.S. extends from Texas to southern Minnesota. But, no place in the United States is completely safe from the threat of severe weather.
All thunderstorms go through a three-stage life cycle. The first stage is called the cumulus stage, where an air parcel is forced to rise, cool, and condense, called the lower condensation level, to develop into a cumulus cloud. The process of water vapor condensing into liquid water releases large quantities of latent heat, which makes the air within the cloud warmer, and unstable causing the cloud continues to grow upward like a hot air balloon. These rising air parcels, called updrafts, prevent precipitation from falling from the cloud. But once the precipitation becomes too heavy for the updrafts to hold up, the moisture begins to fall creating downdrafts within the cloud. The downdrafts also begin to pull cold, dry air from outside the cloud toward the ground in a process called entrainment.
Once the precipitation begins to fall from the cloud, the storm has reached the mature stage. During this stage, updrafts and downdrafts exist side-by-side and the cumulonimbus is called a cell. If the updrafts reach the top of the troposphere, the cumulus cloud will begin to spread outward creating a defined anvil. At the same time, the downdrafts spread within the cloud and at first make the cloud become wider, but eventually overtaking the updrafts. Cool downdrafts form when precipitation and the cool air from entrainment are dragged down to the lower regions of a thunderstorm. It is also during the mature stage when the storm is most intense producing strong, gusting winds, heavy precipitation, lightning, and possibly small hail.
What is the difference between a Severe Thunderstorm WATCH and a Severe Thunderstorm WARNING?
A Severe Thunderstorm WATCH is issued by the NOAA Storm Prediction Center meteorologists who are watching the weather 24/7 across the entire U.S. for weather conditions that are favorable for severe thunderstorms. A watch can cover parts of a state or several states. Watch and prepare for severe weather and stay tuned to NOAA Weather Radio to know when warnings are issued.
A Severe Thunderstorm WARNING is issued by your local NOAA National Weather Service Forecast Office meteorologists who watch a designated area 24/7 for severe weather that has been reported by spotters or indicated by radar. Warnings mean there is a serious threat to life and property to those in the path of the storm. ACT now to find safe shelter! A warning can cover parts of counties or several counties in the path of danger.
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