Thunderstorms occur when a huge mass of warm air collides with a huge mass of cold air. Tall clouds from, and the molecules of water vapor in them freeze and bang into one another. These collisions form electrical fields in the air, or between the clouds and the electrical fields on the ground. These sparks form long paths called lightning. Bolts of lightning can get as hot as 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit (27, 760 °C). That’s hotter than the surface of the sun.
Tornadoes are funnel-shaped clouds made of fast-spinning winds that can reach 300 miles (483 km) per hour. Most large tornadoes form in the central and southern United States, in an area known as Tornado Alley. Though tornadoes do occur in other countries, by far the most occur in the United States: roughly 1,000 a year. The winds that make up a tornado can be strong enough to pick up homes, cars, trees, and anything else on their path. While wind causes most of tornado’s destruction, hail formed in the thunderclouds can also do a lot of damage.
There is a rare weather phenomenon known as thundersnow, wherein thunder and lightning occur during a snowstorm. It generally happens in late winter or early spring and requires a very particular set of air currents. The layer of air closer to the ground must be hotter that the layers above it, but the air must still be cold enough for snow to fall instead of rain. Often during rainstorm, you can look up and see bolts of lightning clearly flash across the sky, but during thundersnow, the bolts will not be visible. The sky will just be brighter for a moment.
- Though thundersnow is rare, when it occurs, there is often heavy snowfall.