• Thundersnow often comes with heavy amounts of snow which can cause visibility problems.
  • Thundersnow is just as deadly as regular rain-accompanied storms.
  • In warm-season thunderstorms, thunder and lightning is more frequent.

Thundersnow – a thunderstorm that produces snow instead of rain – is sometimes reported during winter storms across the nation and in other countries.

Weather Channel meteorologist Jim Cantore was the first to make thundersnow famous. This phenomenon still occurs in a very rare way.

Convection is the movement of air upwards that creates thunderstorms. This makes thunder and lightning more frequent in warm-season storms. However, it is rare for convection to occur during a winter storm.

Thundersnow: How is it possible?

Thundersnow: What does it look like? 

Thundersnow forms when temperature and moisture conditions are just right – a mass of cold on top of warm air, plus moist air closer to the ground.

Convection is a key ingredient in producing thunderstorms, as we’ve already mentioned. In winter storms, it is rare to see convection. Thunder and lightning are much more common in warm-season thunderstorms, according to meteorologist Jeff Haby of the WeatherPrediction.com.

A winter storm that has enough convection and is accompanied by plenty of moisture can cause thundersnow. 

Snowflakes and snow pellets can collide during a winter storm. These collisions can produce the same static charge as a summer storm. Lightning can be created if there is enough static charge.

Thundersnow often occurs when there is a lot of snow. This can cause reduced visibility. Although the snow sometimes muffles the thunder, the lightning can be seen, said meteorologist Grant Gilmore, formerly of WFMY-TV in Greensboro, North Carolina.

According to one study, 6 inches of snow is likely to fall if lightning strikes during snowstorms.

The National Severe Storms Laboratory reports that thundersnow may sometimes be observed downstream from the Great Salt Lake, Great Lakes and Great Lakes in lake-effect snowstorms.

Thundersnow dangers and risks

Thundersnow is just as hazardous as regular rain-accompanied storms. 

“It’s important to remember that when you hear thunder when it’s snowing, the storm is producing lightning,” said Jack Williams, the founding editor of USA TODAY’s weather page in 1982. “Probably the last thing you’d think of are lightning safety rules – those are for summer … but thunder always means there’s lightning, and winter lightning is as dangerous as summer lightning.”

Being outside during a storm to check for lightning could cause injury or even death. Two men were struck by lightning during snowstorms in 1996 – one in Minnesota and the other in Colorado. The National Lightning Safety Institute reports that four Maine teenagers were struck by lightning while they were sledding in 2002.

Source: USAToday.com


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