A thunderstorm, also known as an electrical storm, lightning storm, or thundershower, is a storm characterized by the presence of lightning and its acoustic effect on the Earth's atmosphere, known as thunder. Thunderstorms occur in association with a type of cloud known as a cumulonimbus. They are usually accompanied by strong winds, heavy rain, and sometimes snow, sleet, hail, or, in contrast, no precipitation at all. Thunderstorms may line up in a series or become a rainband, known as a squall line. Strong or severe thunderstorms, known as supercells, rotate as do cyclones. While most thunderstorms move with the mean wind flow through the layer of the troposphere that they occupy, vertical wind shear sometimes causes a deviation in their course at a right angle to the wind shear direction.
There are four types of thunderstorms: single-cell, multi-cell cluster, multi-cell lines, and supercells. Supercell thunderstorms are the strongest and the most associated with severe weather phenomena. Mesoscale convective systems formed by favorable vertical wind shear within the tropics and subtropics can be responsible for the development of hurricanes. Dry thunderstorms, with no precipitation, can cause the outbreak of wildfires from the heat generated from the cloud-to-ground lightning that accompanies them. Several means are used to study thunderstorms: weather radar, weather stations, and video photography. Past civilizations held various myths concerning thunderstorms and their development as late as the 18th century. Beyond the Earth's atmosphere, thunderstorms have also been observed on the planets of Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, and, probably, Venus.
The first stage of a thunderstorm is the cumulus stage or developing stage. During this stage, masses of moisture are lifted upwards into the atmosphere. The trigger for this lift can be solar illumination, where the heating of the ground produces thermals, or where two winds converge forcing air upwards, or where winds blow over terrain of increasing elevation. The moisture carried upward cools into liquid drops of water due to lower temperatures at high altitude, which appear as cumulus clouds. As the water vapor condenses into liquid, latent heat is released, which warms the air, causing it to become less dense than the surrounding, drier air. The air tends to rise in an updraft through the process of convection (hence the term convective precipitation). This process creates a low-pressure zone within and beneath the forming thunderstorm. In a typical thunderstorm, approximately 5?108 kg of water vapor are lifted into the Earth's atmosphere
In the dissipation stage, the thunderstorm is dominated by the downdraft. If atmospheric conditions do not support super cellular development, this stage occurs rather quickly, approximately 20–30 minutes into the life of the thunderstorm. The downdraft will push down out of the thunderstorm, hit the ground and spread out. This phenomenon is known as a downburst. The cool air carried to the ground by the downdraft cuts off the inflow of the thunderstorm, the updraft disappears and the thunderstorm will dissipate. Thunderstorms in an atmosphere with virtually no vertical wind shear weaken as soon as they send out an outflow boundary in all directions, which then quickly cuts off its inflow of relatively warm, moist air, and kills the thunderstorm's further growth. The downdraft hitting the ground creates an outflow boundary. This can cause downbursts, a potential hazardous condition for aircraft to fly through, as a substantial change in wind speed and direction occurs, resulting in a decrease of airspeed and the subsequent reduction in lift for the aircraft. The stronger the outflow boundary is, the stronger the resultant vertical wind shear becomes
This is the most common type of thunderstorm development. Mature thunderstorms are found near the center of the cluster, while dissipating thunderstorms exist on their downwind side. Multicell storms form as clusters of storms but may then evolve into one or more squall lines. While each cell of the cluster may only last 20 minutes, the cluster itself may persist for hours at a time. They often arise from convective updrafts in or near mountain ranges and linear weather boundaries, such as strong cold fronts or troughs of low pressure. These type of storms are stronger than the single-cell storm, yet much weaker than the supercell storm. Hazards with the multicell cluster include moderate-sized hail, flash flooding, and weak tornadoes
Supercell storms are large, usually severe, quasi-steady-state storms that form in an environment where wind speed or wind direction varies with height ("wind shear"), and they have separate downdrafts and updrafts (i.e., where its associated precipitation is not falling through the updraft) with a strong, rotating updraft (a "mesocyclone"). These storms normally have such powerful updrafts that the top of the supercell storm cloud (or anvil) can break through the troposphere and reach into the lower levels of the stratosphere, and supercell storms can be 24 kilometres (15 mi) wide. Research has shown that at least 90 percent of supercells cause severe weather. These storms can produce destructive tornadoes, sometimes F3 or higher, extremely large hailstones (10 centimetres or 4 inches diameter), straight-line winds in excess of 130 km/h (81 mph), and flash floods. In fact, research has also shown that most tornadoes occur from this type of thunderstorm. Supercells are the strongest type of thunderstorm, even stronger than the most severe thunderstorms
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