Meaning of snow lightning – “thundersnow”
As obvious from its title, snow lightning occurs while it is snowing. It is also commonly known as thundersnow. And, some people also call it a thunder snowstorm, and winter thunderstorm.
Can there be thunder in a snowstorm?
The answer is yes. Snow lightning is a rare natural phenomenon. Although it sounds like a scene out of a fantastic movie, it really occurs in some parts of the world. In fact, according to the American Meteorological Society, 6.3 cases of thundersnow are recorded every year across the United States. Considering the low numbers of snowstorms occurring yearly, thundersnow occurrences are very rare.
The scientific study states that only less 1% of the snowstorms may cause thundersnow. So, If you see a sudden flash of light followed by a thunder while it is snowing, then you may consider yourself a lucky witness of a unique natural phenomenon.
How is thundersnow formed?
The main ingredients for the formation of thundersnow are cold and warm, and moist air The warm air on the surface of the ground gets above the layer of cold air in a faster rate. As a result, upward moving air rises as quickly as meters per second, creating collisions in the clouds. Turbulence creates negative and positive charges in some parts of clouds, and sequentially these charges create lightning. The whole process may seem simple enough to happen regularly. But, having a perfect weather condition which can lead to thundersnow require a complex natural process. In order to snow lightning to happen, the air closest to the ground needs to be warm enough to rise up to the clouds to cause thunder. However, at the same time, it needs to be cold enough to turn the precipitation into the snowflakes.
Where does thundersnow occur?
Thundersnow (snow lightning) mostly occur in coastal areas. Because, when a cold front passes over the body of water, the temperature of water and moisture create favorable conditions for thundersnow to form.
For instance, Great Lakes areas of the United States and Canada host this unique natural phenomenon. There are also recorded cases of thundersnow in Bozeman, Montana, and the Great Salt Lake areas. Snow lightning does not occur only in the United States, other parts of the world, such as northwestern Europe, British Isles, and the places around the Sea of Japan and Mount Everest, also witness this weather condition.
Is thundersnow (snow lightning) dangerous?
Whether it is happening during the rain or the snow, lightning can cause potential damage to the spot where it strikes. Most of us already know that. But, there is also one thing we should be aware of when it thunders in the snow. And, that is thundersnow warns that heavy snowfall is about to begin.
Patrick Market, the professor of atmospheric science at the University of Missouri, conducted a scientific study of snowfall during 30 year time. And, he came to the conclusion that if lightning flashes when it is snowing, there is an 86% chance the area within 70 miles (115 kilometers) of a flash will get 6 inches (15 centimeters) of snow. Usually, minutes after the thundersnow, snow starts to fall quickly.
As a conclusion, I suggest you watch live footage of snow lightning below because there is a chance you may never see thundersnow in your lifetime unless you intentionally visit the right places in a right time.
Now, let’s watch the video and celebrate the thundersnow as Jim Cantore did.