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Thunderstorms and

Severe Weather
All Thunderstorms begin as Cumulus Clouds
This is runaway convection cumulonimbus over the Plains.
These clouds can grow to 70,000 feet (14 miles) high!
Mature thunderstorms have both downdrafts and updrafts. The
precipitation forms in the updraft and falls out into the downdraft.
Thunderstorm Hazards



Flash Floods
Every year 100-200
people die from
lightning strikes
There are actually nine cloud-to-cloud
strokes for each cloud-to-ground stroke
In the U.S., the greatest
number of thunderstorms
and lightning fatalities (5-10
per year) occur annually in
strokes are the most
Notice the
segmented pathway
to the ground. Also,
some of the lighting
didnt contact the
Lightning doesnt
always hit the tallest
but it often does. In the
middle ages, the church
towers were used to store
gunpowder, with predictable
Mosques, on the other hand
were struck but rarely
suffered damage. Can you
see why?
Did Franklin really do this?

Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky" by Benjamin West (1738-1820).
The Philadephia Museum of Art
The cloud-to-
ground stroke
heats the air to
around 30,000 K,
making it the
brightest stroke.
By holding the shutter
open, several strokes
are captured in this
image. There were
also lots of air
An air discharge is a stroke which peters out in the air.
Florida gets a
lot of lightning
and we used to
launch the
space shuttle
from there.
Lightning can hit outside the thunderstorm!
Notice the positive streamers at a, b, and c
When the stepped leaders
charge is approaching, you
might give off positive
Dont be the lightnings
conduit. Get inside during

Read survivor stories here:

The fellow inside the
metal cage is safe.
Its called a Faraday
Lightning travels
around him, not
through him.
Inside your
vehicle is
actually a
safe place.
Its a kind of
Dont touch
the metal
Out on the golf course is NOT a safe place during a thunderstorm.
Lightning in the ground is so hot it will
fuse sand. The resulting formations are
called Fulgarites
The heating of the air causes rapid expansion. The
compession is sound. We hear it as thunder.

The sound of thunder travels at right angles to the lightning bolt. It travels
at 1100 ft/sec so count to 5. The sound has traveled about one mile.
Blue dots are high winds, Green dots are large hail,
Red dots are tornadoes
Tornadoes never occur without a parent thunderstorm.
There are over 1000 tornadoes in the U.S. most years.
Miami, Florida tornado
A large, cone tornado. It might be a mile wide at
the ground.
Oklahoma City F5 tornado May 3, 1999
Here are all the 2011 tornadoes (1894)
All the tornadoes in 2014 so far (1000)
The number of tornadoes observed in the U.S. appears to be
increasing. Or are we just getting better at finding them?

Tornadoes in the Great Plains tend
to be the most destructive
On radar, often big tornadoes are seen with a
hook echo
Greensburg, KS tornado hook echo
Greensburg High School

Watches and Warnings
Damage from the May 31, 1998 tornadoes in Albany,
NY. On the Fujita scale, where does this fit?
In 2006, the NWS introduced the Enhanced Fujita Scale, an updated version of the F-scale
Tornadoes do damage on a very small scale
Houses demolished

Houses untouched

House untouched

House damaged
In 2011, almost 1900 tornadoes
were reported in the U.S.!
Tuscaloosa EF4

Where dont you want to be when a tornado strikes?

Large hail is not a killer, but does considerable damage

Falling from 20,000 feet or higher, large hailstones pack quite a punch!
Average annual number of days with hail
This is the biggest
hailstone known.
It fell at a town
called Aurora, NE
on June 22, 2003.
The Aurora hailstone was 7 inches in diameter. Imagine that falling
on your head from 20,000 feet up!
This is the previous record-holder, the Coffeyville hailstone with
some props (egg, hand) for comparison.