Air-mass thunderstorm

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An air-mass thunderstorm over Wagga Wagga. Thunderstorm over Wagga Wagga.jpg
An air-mass thunderstorm over Wagga Wagga.

An air-mass thunderstorm, also called an "ordinary", [1] "single cell", or "garden variety" thunderstorm, [2] is a thunderstorm that is generally weak and usually not severe. These storms form in environments where at least some amount of Convective Available Potential Energy (CAPE) is present, but very low levels of wind shear and helicity. The lifting source, which is a crucial factor in thunderstorm development, is usually the result of uneven heating of the surface, though they can be induced by weather fronts and other low-level boundaries associated with wind convergence. The energy needed for these storms to form comes in the form of insolation, or solar radiation. Air-mass thunderstorms do not move quickly, last no longer than an hour, and have the threats of lightning, as well as showery light, moderate, or heavy rainfall. Heavy rainfall can interfere with microwave transmissions within the atmosphere.

Thunderstorm type of weather

A thunderstorm, also known as an electrical storm or a lightning storm, is a storm characterized by the presence of lightning and its acoustic effect on the Earth's atmosphere, known as thunder. Relatively weak thunderstorms are sometimes called thundershowers. Thunderstorms occur in a type of cloud known as a cumulonimbus. They are usually accompanied by strong winds, and often produce heavy rain and sometimes snow, sleet, or hail, but some thunderstorms produce little precipitation or no precipitation at all. Thunderstorms may line up in a series or become a rainband, known as a squall line. Strong or severe thunderstorms include some of the most dangerous weather phenomena, including large hail, strong winds, and tornadoes. Some of the most persistent 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.

Wind shear

Wind shear, sometimes referred to as wind gradient, is a difference in wind speed or direction over a relatively short distance in the atmosphere. Atmospheric wind shear is normally described as either vertical or horizontal wind shear. Vertical wind shear is a change in wind speed or direction with change in altitude. Horizontal wind shear is a change in wind speed with change in lateral position for a given altitude.

Weather front boundary separating two masses of air of different densities

A weather front is a boundary separating two masses of air of different densities, and is the principal cause of meteorological phenomena outside the tropics. In surface weather analyses, fronts are depicted using various colored triangles and half-circles, depending on the type of front. The air masses separated by a front usually differ in temperature and humidity.


Lightning characteristics are related to characteristics of the parent thunderstorm, and could induce wildfires near thunderstorms with minimal rainfall. On unusual occasions there could be a weak downburst and small hail. They are common in temperate zones during a summer afternoon. Like all thunderstorms, the mean-layered wind field the storms form within determine motion. When the deep-layered wind flow is light, outflow boundary progression will determine storm movement. Since thunderstorms can be a hazard to aviation, pilots are advised to fly above any haze layers within regions of better visibility and to avoid flying under the anvil of these thunderstorms, which can be regions where hail falls from the parent thunderstorm. Vertical wind shear is also a hazard near the base of thunderstorms which have generated outflow boundaries.

Wildfire uncontrolled fire in an area of combustible vegetation that occurs in the countryside or a wilderness area

A wildfire or wildland fire is a fire in an area of combustible vegetation occurring in rural areas. Depending on the type of vegetation present, a wildfire can also be classified more specifically as a brush fire, bushfire, desert fire, forest fire, grass fire, hill fire, peat fire, vegetation fire, or veld fire.


A downburst is a strong ground-level wind system that emanates from a point source above and blows radially, that is, in straight lines in all directions from the point of contact at ground level. Often producing damaging winds, it may be confused with a tornado, where high-velocity winds circle a central area, and air moves inward and upward; by contrast, in a downburst, winds are directed downward and then outward from the surface landing point.

Hail precipitation

Hail is a form of solid precipitation. It is distinct from ice pellets, though the two are often confused. It consists of balls or irregular lumps of ice, each of which is called a hailstone. Ice pellets fall generally in cold weather while hail growth is greatly inhibited during cold surface temperatures.

Life cycle

Stages of a thunderstorm's life Thunderstorm formation.jpg
Stages of a thunderstorm's life

The trigger for the lift of the initial cumulus cloud can be insolation heating the ground producing thermals, areas where two winds converge forcing air upwards, or where winds blow over terrain of increasing elevation. The moisture rapidly cools into liquid drops of water due to the cooler temperatures at high altitude, which appears 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 dry air. The air tends to rise in an updraft through the process of convection (hence the term convective precipitation). This creates a low-pressure zone beneath the forming thunderstorm, otherwise known as a cumulonimbus cloud. In a typical thunderstorm, approximately 5×108 kg of water vapor is lifted into the Earth's atmosphere. [3] As they form in areas of minimal vertical wind shear, [4] the thunderstorm's rainfall creates a moist and relatively cool outflow boundary with undercuts the storm's low level inflow, and quickly causes dissipation. Waterspouts, small hail, and strong wind gusts can occur in association with these thunderstorms. [5]

Cumulus cloud genus of clouds, low-level cloud

Cumulus clouds are clouds which have flat bases and are often described as "puffy", "cotton-like" or "fluffy" in appearance. Their name derives from the Latin cumulo-, meaning heap or pile. Cumulus clouds are low-level clouds, generally less than 2,000 m (6,600 ft) in altitude unless they are the more vertical cumulus congestus form. Cumulus clouds may appear by themselves, in lines, or in clusters.

Latent heat Thermodynamic phase transition energy

Latent heat is thermal energy released or absorbed, by a body or a thermodynamic system, during a constant-temperature process — usually a first-order phase transition.

Convection movement of groups of molecules within fluids such as liquids or gases, and within rheids; takes place through advection, diffusion or both

Convection is the heat transfer due to the bulk movement of molecules within fluids such as gases and liquids, including molten rock (rheid). Convection includes sub-mechanisms of advection, and diffusion.

Common locations of appearance

Also known as single cell thunderstorms, these are the typical summer thunderstorms in many temperate locales. They also occur in the cool unstable air which often follows the passage of a cold front from the sea during winter. Within a cluster of thunderstorms, the term "cell" refers to each separate principal updraft. Thunderstorm cells occasionally form in isolation, as the occurrence of one thunderstorm can develop an outflow boundary which sets up new thunderstorm development. Such storms are rarely severe and are a result of local atmospheric instability; hence the term "air mass thunderstorm". When such storms have a brief period of severe weather associated with them, it is known as a pulse severe storm. Pulse severe storms are poorly organized due to the minimal vertical wind shear in the storm's environment and occur randomly in time and space, making them difficult to forecast. Between formation and dissipation, single cell thunderstorms normally last 20–30 minutes. [6]


Anvil shaped thundercloud in the mature stage over Swifts Creek, Victoria Anvil shaped cumulus panorama edit crop.jpg
Anvil shaped thundercloud in the mature stage over Swifts Creek, Victoria

The two major ways thunderstorms move are via advection of the wind and propagation along outflow boundaries towards sources of greater heat and moisture. Many thunderstorms move with the mean wind speed through the Earth's troposphere, or the lowest 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) of the Earth's atmosphere. Younger thunderstorms are steered by winds closer to the Earth's surface than more mature thunderstorms as they tend not to be as tall. If the gust front, or leading edge of the outflow boundary, moves ahead of the thunderstorm, the thunderstorm's motion will move in tandem with the gust front. This is more of a factor with thunderstorms with heavy precipitation (HP), such as air-mass thunderstorms. When thunderstorms merge, which is most likely when numerous thunderstorms exist in proximity to each other, the motion of the stronger thunderstorm normally dictates future motion of the merged cell. The stronger the mean wind, the less likely other processes will be involved in storm motion. On weather radar, storms are tracked by using a prominent feature and tracking it from scan to scan. [7]

Troposphere The lowest layer of the atmosphere

The troposphere is the lowest layer of Earth's atmosphere, and is also where nearly all weather conditions take place. It contains approximately 75% of the atmosphere's mass and 99% of the total mass of water vapor and aerosols. The average height of the troposphere is 18 km in the tropics, 17 km in the middle latitudes, and 6 km in the polar regions in winter. The total average height of the troposphere is 13 km.

Weather radar radar used to locate and monitor meteorological conditions

Weather radar, also called weather surveillance radar (WSR) and Doppler weather radar, is a type of radar used to locate precipitation, calculate its motion, and estimate its type. Modern weather radars are mostly pulse-Doppler radars, capable of detecting the motion of rain droplets in addition to the intensity of the precipitation. Both types of data can be analyzed to determine the structure of storms and their potential to cause severe weather.

Convective precipitation

Calvus type cumulonimbus cloud Wagga-Cumulonimbus.jpg
Calvus type cumulonimbus cloud

Convective rain, or showery precipitation, occurs from cumulonimbus clouds. It falls as showers with rapidly changing intensity. Convective precipitation falls over a certain area for a relatively short time, as convective clouds such as thunderstorms have limited horizontal extent. Most precipitation in the tropics appears to be convective. [8] [9] Graupel and hail are good indicators of convective precipitation and thunderstorms. [10] In mid-latitudes, convective precipitation is intermittent and often associated with baroclinic boundaries such as cold fronts, squall lines, and warm fronts. [11] High rainfall rates are associated with thunderstorms with larger raindrops. Heavy rainfall leads to fading of microwave transmissions starting above the frequency of 10 gigahertz (GHz), but is more severe above frequencies of 15 GHz. [12]

Tropics region of the Earth surrounding the Equator

The tropics are the region of the Earth surrounding the Equator. They are delimited in latitude by The Tropic of Cancer in the Northern Hemisphere at 23°26′12.4″ (or 23.43679°) N and the Tropic of Capricorn in the Southern Hemisphere at 23°26′12.4″ (or 23.43679°) S; these latitudes correspond to the axial tilt of the Earth. The tropics are also referred to as the tropical zone and the torrid zone. The tropics include all the areas on the Earth where the Sun contacts a point directly overhead at least once during the solar year - thus the latitude of the tropics is roughly equal to the angle of the Earth's axial tilt.

Graupel, also called soft hail or snow pellets, is precipitation that forms when supercooled water droplets are collected and freeze on falling snowflakes, forming 2–5 mm (0.08–0.20 in) balls of rime. The term graupel comes from the German language.

Cold front leading edge of a cooler mass of air

A cold front is the leading edge of a cooler mass of air, replacing at ground level a warmer mass of air, which lies within a fairly sharp surface trough of low pressure. It forms in the wake of an extratropical cyclone, at the leading edge of its cold air advection pattern, which is also known as the cyclone's dry conveyor belt circulation. Temperature changes across the boundary can exceed 30 °C (54 °F). When enough moisture is present, rain can occur along the boundary. If there is significant instability along the boundary, a narrow line of thunderstorms can form along the frontal zone. If instability is less, a broad shield of rain can move in behind the front, which increases the temperature difference across the boundary. Cold fronts are stronger in the fall and spring transition seasons and weakest during the summer.


Downward motion of cooler air from thunderstorms spreads outward in all directions when the environmental wind flow is light Microburstnasa.JPG
Downward motion of cooler air from thunderstorms spreads outward in all directions when the environmental wind flow is light

Relationships between lightning frequency and the height of precipitation within thunderstorms have been found. Thunderstorms which show radar returns above 14 kilometres (8.7 mi) in height are associated with storms which have more than ten lightning flashes per minute. There is also a correlation between the total lightning rate and the size of the thunderstorm, its updraft velocity, and amount of graupel over land. The same relationships fail over tropical oceans, however. [13] Lightning from low precipitation (LP) thunderstorms is one of the leading causes of wildfires. [14] [15]

Aviation concerns

In areas where these thunderstorms form in isolation and horizontal visibility is good, pilots can evade these storms rather easily. In more moist atmospheres which become hazy, pilots navigate above the haze layer in order to get a better vantage point of these storms. Flying under the anvil of thunderstorms is not advised, as hail is more likely to fall in such areas outside the thunderstorm's main rain shaft. [16] When an outflow boundary forms due to a shallow layer of rain-cooled air spreading out near ground level from the parent thunderstorm, both speed and directional wind shear can result at the leading edge of the three-dimensional boundary. The stronger the outflow boundary is, the stronger the resultant vertical wind shear will become. [17]

See also

Related Research Articles

Cumulonimbus cloud genus of clouds, dense towering vertical cloud associated with thunderstorms and atmospheric instability

Cumulonimbus is a dense, towering vertical cloud, forming from water vapor carried by powerful upward air currents. If observed during a storm, these clouds may be referred to as thunderheads. Cumulonimbus can form alone, in clusters, or along cold front squall lines. These clouds are capable of producing lightning and other dangerous severe weather, such as tornadoes. Cumulonimbus progress from overdeveloped cumulus congestus clouds and may further develop as part of a supercell. Cumulonimbus is abbreviated Cb.

Supercell thunderstorm that is characterized by the presence of a mesocyclone

A supercell is a thunderstorm characterized by the presence of a mesocyclone: a deep, persistently rotating updraft. For this reason, these storms are sometimes referred to as rotating thunderstorms. Of the four classifications of thunderstorms, supercells are the overall least common and have the potential to be the most severe. Supercells are often isolated from other thunderstorms, and can dominate the local weather up to 32 kilometres (20 mi) away. They tend to last 2-4 hours.


A mesocyclone is a vortex of air within a convective storm. It is air that rises and rotates around a vertical axis, usually in the same direction as low pressure systems in a given hemisphere. They are most often cyclonic, that is, associated with a localized low-pressure region within a severe thunderstorm. Such thunderstorms can feature strong surface winds and severe hail. Mesocyclones often occur together with updrafts in supercells, within which tornadoes may form at the interchange with certain downdrafts.

Squall sudden, sharp increase in the sustained winds over a short time interval

A squall is a sudden, sharp increase in wind speed lasting minutes, contrary to a wind gust lasting seconds. They are usually associated with active weather, such as rain showers, thunderstorms, or heavy snow. Squalls refer to the increase to the sustained winds over that time interval, as there may be higher gusts during a squall event. They usually occur in a region of strong sinking air or cooling in the mid-atmosphere. These force strong localized upward motions at the leading edge of the region of cooling, which then enhances local downward motions just in its wake.

Precipitation product of the condensation of atmospheric water vapour that falls under gravity

In meteorology, precipitation is any product of the condensation of atmospheric water vapor that falls under gravity. The main forms of precipitation include drizzle, rain, sleet, snow, graupel and hail. Precipitation occurs when a portion of the atmosphere becomes saturated with water vapor, so that the water condenses and "precipitates". Thus, fog and mist are not precipitation but suspensions, because the water vapor does not condense sufficiently to precipitate. Two processes, possibly acting together, can lead to air becoming saturated: cooling the air or adding water vapor to the air. Precipitation forms as smaller droplets coalesce via collision with other rain drops or ice crystals within a cloud. Short, intense periods of rain in scattered locations are called "showers."

Squall line

A squall line or quasi-linear convective system (QLCS) is a line of thunderstorms forming along or ahead of a cold front. In the early 20th century, the term was used as a synonym for cold front. It contains heavy precipitation, hail, frequent lightning, strong straight-line winds, and possibly tornadoes and waterspouts. Strong straight-line winds can occur where the squall line is in the shape of a bow echo. Tornadoes can occur along waves within a line echo wave pattern (LEWP), where mesoscale low-pressure areas are present. Some bow echoes which develop within the summer season are known as derechos, and they move quite fast through large sections of territory. On the back edge of the rainband associated with mature squall lines, a wake low can be present, sometimes associated with a heat burst.

Outflow boundary

An outflow boundary, also known as a gust front, is a storm-scale or mesoscale boundary separating thunderstorm-cooled air (outflow) from the surrounding air; similar in effect to a cold front, with passage marked by a wind shift and usually a drop in temperature and a related pressure jump. Outflow boundaries can persist for 24 hours or more after the thunderstorms that generated them dissipate, and can travel hundreds of kilometers from their area of origin. New thunderstorms often develop along outflow boundaries, especially near the point of intersection with another boundary. Outflow boundaries can be seen either as fine lines on weather radar imagery or else as arcs of low clouds on weather satellite imagery. From the ground, outflow boundaries can be co-located with the appearance of roll clouds and shelf clouds.

This is a list of meteorology topics. The terms relate to meteorology, the interdisciplinary scientific study of the atmosphere that focuses on weather processes and forecasting.

Mesoscale convective system complex of thunderstorms organized on a larger scale

A mesoscale convective system (MCS) is a complex of thunderstorms that becomes organized on a scale larger than the individual thunderstorms but smaller than extratropical cyclones, and normally persists for several hours or more. A mesoscale convective system's overall cloud and precipitation pattern may be round or linear in shape, and include weather systems such as tropical cyclones, squall lines, lake-effect snow events, polar lows, and Mesoscale Convective Complexes (MCCs), and generally form near weather fronts. The type that forms during the warm season over land has been noted across North America, Europe, and Asia, with a maximum in activity noted during the late afternoon and evening hours.

Multicellular thunderstorm

A multicellular thunderstorm cluster is a thunderstorm that is composed of multiple cells, each being at a different stage in the life cycle of a thunderstorm. It appears as several anvils clustered together. A cell is an updraft/downdraft couplet. These different cells will dissipate as new cells form and continue the life of the multicellular thunderstorm cluster with each cell taking a turn as the dominant cell in the group.

Precipitation types

In meteorology, the various types of precipitation often include the character or phase of the precipitation which is falling to ground level. There are three distinct ways that precipitation can occur. Convective precipitation is generally more intense, and of shorter duration, than stratiform precipitation. Orographic precipitation occurs when moist air is forced upwards over rising terrain, such as a mountain.

Outflow (meteorology) air that flows outwards from a storm system

Outflow, in meteorology, is air that flows outwards from a storm system. It is associated with ridging, or anticyclonic flow. In the low levels of the troposphere, outflow radiates from thunderstorms in the form of a wedge of rain-cooled air, which is visible as a thin rope-like cloud on weather satellite imagery or a fine line on weather radar imagery. Low-level outflow boundaries can disrupt the center of small tropical cyclones. However, outflow aloft is essential for the strengthening of a tropical cyclone. If this outflow is undercut, the tropical cyclone weakens. If two tropical cyclones are in proximity, the upper level outflow from the system to the west can limit the development of the system to the east.

Atmospheric convection

Atmospheric convection is the result of a parcel-environment instability, or temperature difference layer in the atmosphere. Different lapse rates within dry and moist air masses lead to instability. Mixing of air during the day which expands the height of the planetary boundary layer leads to increased winds, cumulus cloud development, and decreased surface dew points. Moist convection leads to thunderstorm development, which is often responsible for severe weather throughout the world. Special threats from thunderstorms include hail, downbursts, and tornadoes.

Convective storm detection is the meteorological observation, and short-term prediction, of deep moist convection (DMC). DMC describes atmospheric conditions producing single or clusters of large vertical extension clouds ranging from cumulus congestus to cumulonimbus, the latter producing thunderstorms associated with lightning and thunder. Those two types of clouds can produce severe weather at the surface and aloft.

Atmospheric instability

Atmospheric instability is a condition where the Earth's atmosphere is generally considered to be unstable and as a result the weather is subjected to a high degree of variability through distance and time. Atmospheric stability is a measure of the atmosphere's tendency to discourage or deter vertical motion, and vertical motion is directly correlated to different types of weather systems and their severity. In unstable conditions, a lifted thing, such as a parcel of air will be warmer than the surrounding air at altitude. Because it is warmer, it is less dense and is prone to further ascent.

The following is a glossary of tornado terms. It includes scientific as well as selected informal terminology.

Glossary of meteorology Wikimedia list article

This glossary of meteorology is a list of terms and concepts relevant to meteorology and the atmospheric sciences, their sub-disciplines, and related fields.


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