Thunderstorms are an awesome and thrilling sight. They captivate us – and sometimes scare us – with their sheer power. The loud rumblings and cracks of lightning during a thunderstorm are unlike anything else – in fact, these sights and sounds have fascinated humans for generations! But aside from watching them from your window, what do you really know about thunderstorms? We’ve rounded up 7 facts about thunderstorms to help you understand these awe-inspiring meteorological events. Ready to learn something new? Read on!
#1 An Estimated 16 Million Thunderstorms Occur Every Year.
Earth experiences an estimated 16 million thunderstorms each year. In fact, scientists estimate that around 100,000 thunderstorms occur each year in the United States alone! Approximately 10% of the 100,000 thunderstorms that happen in the United States are classified as severe, meaning that they produce strong or damaging winds, large hail, and/or tornadoes.
#2 There Are 4 Main Types of Thunderstorms.
There are four main types of thunderstorms: single-cell, multi-cell cluster, multi-cell line (squall line), and supercell. Single-cell thunderstorms pulse up, rain for about half an hour, and then dissipate. However, when a single-cell thunderstorm collapses, it can trigger more storms in a chain reaction. Multi-cell thunderstorms are the most common type; these consist of a cluster of storm cells moving along as one unit, with each cell in a different phase of the thunderstorm life cycle. Squall line thunderstorms consist of a long line of storms with a continuous, well-developed gust front at the leading edge.
#3 Supercell Thunderstorms Are the Most Dangerous Type.
Supercell thunderstorms are relatively rare compared to the other 3 types, but they are also the most dangerous. The individual storm cells that make up a supercell thunderstorm are highly organized and share one main, extremely strong rotating updraft. The strong rotating updraft is what sets supercell thunderstorms apart from other thunderstorm types. It is also what allows supercell thunderstorms to produce severe weather such as large-sized hail, high winds, and strong tornadoes.
#4 Lightning Is 5x Hotter Than the Sun.
Lightning is the result of the movement of electrical charges, so it doesn’t technically have a temperature. However, lightning can heat the air it passes through up to 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which is 5x hotter than the surface temperature of the Sun!
#5 Lightning Occurs When Electrical Charges Are Separated.
Lightning forms when ice crystals and water droplets in clouds collide and create positive and negative electrical charges. These charges become separated by convective forces and when they become separated enough, the energy disperses in the form of a lightning bolt.
#6 Thunder Is Caused by a Rapid Expansion of Air.
In essence, thunder is caused by a rapid expansion of air. A lightning bolt passing through the air raises the temperature of that surrounding air and creates a rapid increase in pressure. As the heated air rapidly expands, the pressure drops, causing the air to cool and contract. The result is a shock wave that produces a sonic boom – this is what we hear as thunder.
#7 It Can Thunder When It’s Snowing.
Most people associate thunder with rain, but thunderstorms can also occur when it’s snowing or sleeting, and even during freezing rain! The phenomenon is referred to as “thundersnow” by some meteorologists. Thundersnow typically requires extremely strong vertical motion, which tends to exist when there is a large temperature difference across the center of a storm. If warmer air wraps into the storm, lightning can occur or increase. Thundersnow doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it is usually accompanied by heavy snowfall. Thundersnow can sometimes occur during nor’easters on the East Coast of the United States and during late autumn or early spring storms in the Midwest.
#8 Lightning Can Occur on Other Planets.
Lightning isn’t just an Earth phenomenon. It also occurs on other planets! The cameras on the Voyager and Galileo spacecraft detected lightning in Jupiter’s atmosphere, while the Cassini probe cameras detected a flash of lightning on Saturn in 2011. Scientists also believe that Venus experiences cloud-to-cloud lightning, although no visual evidence has yet been seen.
Want to learn even more facts about thunderstorms? Check out this video!