- Thundersnow is usually associated with very high snow rates, which can lead to reduced visibility.
- Stormy snow can be just as dangerous as a regular thunderstorm accompanied by rain.
- Thunder and lightning are much more common in warm season thunderstorms.
Thundersnow – a thunderstorm that produces snow instead of rain – is sometimes reported during winter storms across the country and in other countries.
Made famous by Weather Channel meteorologist Jim Cantore, whose excitement to hear and see the phenomenon is legendary in several viral videos, including one from Chicago in 2011, thunderstorms are still relatively rare.
Thunder and lightning are much more common in warm season storms due to convection, the upward movement of air that helps produce thunderstorms. It is quite rare to have convection in a winter storm.
How does the storm come about?
What is a thunderstorm and how is it formed?
Stormy snow forms when the temperature and humidity conditions are ideal – a mass of cold air above warm air, plus moist air closer to the ground.
As noted above, convection helps produce thunderstorms. It is unusual to have convection during a winter storm. Thunder and lightning are much more common in warm-season thunderstorms, according to meteorologist Jeff Haby of WeatherPrediction.com.
When convection is strong enough and humidity is plentiful, a winter storm can produce thunderstorm snow.
During a winter storm, snowflakes and sleet pellets high in the clouds can collide. These collisions create the same static charges as in a summer thunderstorm. With sufficient static charge, lightning is created.
Thundersnow is usually associated with very high snow rates, which can lead to reduced visibility. Although snow sometimes suffocates thunder, lightning can be seen, said meteorologist Grant Gilmore, formerly of WFMY-TV in Greensboro, North Carolina.
One study found that when lightning strikes during a snowstorm, at least 6 inches of snow is likely to fall.
According to the National Severe Storms Laboratory, Thundersnow is occasionally observed downstream of the Great Salt Lake and the Great Lakes during lake-effect snowstorms.
Risks and dangers of thunderstorm
Be careful there: Thundersnow can be just as dangerous as a regular thunderstorm accompanied by rain.
“It’s important to remember that when you hear thunder when it snows, the storm produces lightning,” said Jack Williams, founding editor of USA TODAY’s weather page in 1982. “Probably the last thing in the world. which you would think are the lightning safety rules – these are for summer … but thunder always means there is lightning, and winter lightning is as dangerous as lightning. summer.”
Going outside during a snowstorm to watch for lightning can result in injury or death. Two men were struck by lightning during snow storms in 1996 – one in Minnesota and the other in Colorado. In 2002, four teenagers in Maine were struck on a hill while sledding, according to the National Lightning Safety Institute.