Thundersnow Often Means Lots of Snow

Dec 18, 2006

It's rarely a good sign when a snowstorm produces lightning and thunder, according to University of Missouri-Columbia atmospheric scientists, who warn that such weather behavior is often the precursor to a bigger problem: lots of snow.

As winter begins, MU researchers in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (CAFNR) have determined that a heavy accumulation of snow is more likely to occur when a snowstorm is accompanied by flashes of lightning and crashes of thunder, referred to as thundersnow.

In their study, Christina Crowe, an undergraduate student, and Patrick Market, associate professor of atmospheric science in CAFNR, examined the Midwest portion of the United States - between the Rocky and Appalachian Mountains. Excluded were mountainous and lake regions due to their geographical characteristics, which often affect weather patterns.

Results indicated that within a 68-mile radius of where thundersnow occurred:

- six or more inches of snow fell 86 percent of the time;

- 10 or more inches fell 45 percent of the time; and

- the maximum amount of accumulation was recorded 36 percent of the time.

"When lightning and thunder occur, someone close is receiving a significant amount of snow," Market said.

Crowe and Market, through a National Science Foundation grant, analyzed accumulation levels over a 30-year time period, 1961-90. With data from airport reporting and cooperative climate observer stations, they focused on 22 storms throughout the upper Midwest. Snowfall levels were categorized as significant (six or more inches) and extreme (10 inches or more). In 19 of the 22 cases, significant or extreme accumulations accompanied thundersnow - somewhere in the area during a 24-hour period.

Crowe and Market said the information will allow weather forecasters to more accurately predict accumulation levels during snowstorms.

"If forecasters see that there's thundersnow, they will know there's a greater chance for heavy snow in their area," Crowe said. "It signifies that the storm is a snow producer."

Market said thundersnow is rare and occurs only in the Midwest about 12 times per year. It most recently happened last month in Columbia and parts of Missouri as a major snowstorm crippled the area. The storm left about 16 inches of snow, closing roads, schools and businesses along its path.

The study, "An Investigation of Thundersnow and Deep Snow Accumulations," will be published in the Dec. 22 issue of Geophysical Research Letters.

Source: University of Missouri-Columbia

Explore further: A 3-D view of the Greenland Ice Sheet opens window on ice history

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Law enforcement personnel using see-through radar tech

8 hours ago

Radar that 'sees' through walls has raised privacy concerns, said the BBC on Tuesday. At least 50 US police forces are believed to be equipped with radar devices that can send signals through walls. The ra ...

Goshawk hunt and prey-evasion strategies revealed

9 hours ago

Stealth is the goshawk's greatest asset. Plummeting out of the air, the raptors fix their gaze on the oblivious victim below. Intrigued by the birds' attack tactics, Suzanne Amador Kane from Haverford College, USA, decided ...

Recommended for you

Warm ocean melting East Antarctica's largest glacier

16 minutes ago

The largest glacier in East Antarctica, containing ice equivalent to a six-metre (20-foot) rise in global sea levels, is melting due to warm ocean water, Australian scientists said on Monday.

Geologists solve mystery of Tibetan mountains

Jan 23, 2015

In the most comprehensive study of its kind, University of Kansas geologists have unraveled one of the geologic mysteries of Tibet. The research, recently published online in Nature Geoscience, shows that i ...

Image: Greenland's Leidy Glacier

Jan 23, 2015

Located in the northwest corner of Greenland, Leidy Glacier is fed by ice from the Academy Glacier (upstream and inland). As Leidy approaches the sea, it is diverted around the tip of an island that separates ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.