Facts About Storms

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Facts About Storms

Fascinating Facts About Storms

Tornadoes: Nature’s Destructive Whirlwinds

Tornadoes are powerful enough to demolish houses and even lift trains off the ground (Simon, 1992). These natural disasters can become darker as they pick up dirt and debris, with some tornadoes traveling over 60 miles per hour and winds inside them circling over 200 miles per hour (Simon, 1992). Moreover, Earth experiences about 1,000 tornadoes annually, with most of them occurring in the United States (National Severe Storms Laboratory, n.d.).

A tornado

Tornado Alley, an area in the United States stretching from Texas to South Dakota, experiences the highest frequency of tornadoes in the world (National Geographic, 2021). Tornadoes are rated on the Enhanced Fujita (EF) Scale, ranging from EF0 (weakest) to EF5 (strongest), based on the damage they cause (National Geographic, 2021).

Thunderstorms: Electrical Spectacles of Nature

A single 20-minute thunderstorm can release an astounding 125 million gallons of water as rain (Simon, 1992). Thunderstorms have downdrafts, which send cold air vertically downward to the ground, capable of plummeting an airplane over a thousand feet in seconds and creating gust fronts that result in dust storms (Simon, 1992). Additionally, planet Earth experiences approximately 16 million thunderstorms each year (Simon, 1992).

Lightning: Nature’s High-Voltage Discharge

The temperature of a lightning bolt is 50,000°F, about five times hotter than the sun’s surface (Simon, 1992). A thunderhead can have a buildup of 100 million volts that discharge in the form of lightning (Simon, 1992). Every second, there are roughly 100 bolts of lightning happening around the world, and lightning injures or kills someone every day, somewhere on the planet (Simon, 1992). A lightning bolt can travel at speeds of 220,000 miles per hour and can strike up to 15 miles from the parent thunderstorm (National Geographic, 2021). Each year, lightning strikes Earth about 100 times per second, totaling around 8 million strikes per day and 3 billion strikes per year (National Geographic, 2021). Additionally, there are six different types of lightning: cloud-to-ground, intracloud, cloud-to-cloud, cloud-to-air, ground-to-cloud, and bead lightning (National Geographic, 2021).

A satellite view of a hurricane storm

Hurricanes: The Eye of the Storm

The very center of a hurricane is called the “eye,” where the winds are calm and it can feel like a peaceful, sunny day (Simon, 1992). Hurricane winds range between 74 to about 200 miles per hour (Simon, 1992). More people die from hurricanes each year than all other storms combined (Simon, 1992).

Hailstones and Sleet: Frozen Precipitation

The size of hailstones depends on the strength of the winds in the upper areas of the thunderstorm (Simon, 1992). Hailstones have been known to reach the size of grapefruits, causing damage to buildings, vehicles, crops, and injuring animals such as horses and cows (Simon, 1992). On the other hand, sleet occurs in winter when rain or snow falls from a warm layer in the clouds, passes through a cold layer, and the droplets freeze into small ice pellets (Encyclopedia of Climate and Weather, 2011).

Thunder: The Soundtrack of Storms

Thunder is the noise caused by lightning, but sound travels slower than light (Simon, 1992). If you count the number of seconds between a lightning flash and its thunder, and divide that number by five, that number will tell you how many miles away the lightning occurred (Simon, 1992).

Storms’ Impact on the Environment

Although thunderstorms can be violent, they actually benefit the environment as well. They bring water to dry areas, help keep the atmosphere cool by drawing up heat and releasing it into space, and clean the air (Simon, 1992).

Types of Storms: A Global Perspective

There are various types of storms worldwide, including monsoons, blizzards, and derechos. Monsoons are seasonal wind shifts that bring heavy rainfall, primarily affecting parts of Asia and Africa (National Weather Service, n.d.). Blizzards are severe snowstorms with high winds, low visibility, and freezing temperatures, commonly occurring in the polar regions and North America (National Weather Service, n.d.). Derechos are widespread, long-lived windstorms with rapidly moving thunderstorms and wind speeds over 58 mph, often causing significant damage (National Weather Service, n.d.).

Storm Safety: Protecting Yourself and Your Family

During thunderstorms, it is safer to be indoors than outdoors; however, if you are stuck outside, it is safer to be by yourself than under a lone tree (Simon, 1992). To avoid lightning strikes, the 30-30 rule is advised: if the time between lightning and thunder is less than 30 seconds, seek shelter and wait at least 30 minutes after the last thunder before resuming outdoor activities (National Weather Service, n.d.).

Economic Impact of Storms

Storms can have significant economic consequences, as they often lead to property damage, infrastructure disruption, and agricultural losses. For example, Hurricane Katrina, one of the deadliest and costliest hurricanes in U.S. history, resulted in over $125 billion in damages and more than 1,200 fatalities (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2021).

Climate Change and Storm Intensity

As global temperatures rise due to climate change, it is predicted that storms will become more intense and frequent (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, n.d.). The increased moisture in the atmosphere will likely lead to heavier precipitation, more intense hurricanes, and higher storm surges, posing greater risks to life and property (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, n.d.).

Storm Chasing: Tracking Extreme Weather

Storm chasing is the pursuit of severe weather events, such as tornadoes, hurricanes, and thunderstorms, by meteorologists, researchers, and weather enthusiasts. The primary goal of storm chasing is to study and document these weather phenomena to improve scientific understanding and forecasting (National Geographic, 2019). Storm chasing can be dangerous, and it is crucial for chasers to maintain a safe distance from storms while observing and documenting their behavior (National Geographic, 2019).

Floods: A Common Consequence of Storms

Floods are often the result of heavy rainfall during storms, as the ground becomes saturated and rivers and streams overflow their banks. Flash floods can occur rapidly, posing a significant threat to life and property. In the United States, floods are the most common and widespread natural disaster, with approximately 75% of all Presidential disaster declarations involving floods (National Geographic, 2019).

A lightning storm above a city at night

Storm Formation: Understanding the Ingredients

Storms form when warm, moist air rises and cools, creating clouds and precipitation. Three primary ingredients are necessary for storm development: moisture, instability, and a lifting mechanism (National Weather Service, n.d.). Moisture provides the fuel for cloud and precipitation formation, while instability allows air to rise and form clouds. A lifting mechanism, such as a cold front, can trigger the rising motion and initiate storm development (National Weather Service, n.d.).

Supercells: The Most Powerful Thunderstorms

Supercells are the most potent and well-organized type of thunderstorm, characterized by a rotating updraft called a mesocyclone (National Weather Service, n.d.). These storms can produce severe weather, including large hail, damaging winds, and tornadoes, and can last for several hours (National Weather Service, n.d.). Supercells are responsible for a significant percentage of severe weather events in the United States (National Weather Service, n.d.).

See Also:

Fact Sources:

Encyclopedia of Climate and Weather, Second Edition. (2011). Sleet. New York: Oxford University Press.

National Severe Storms Laboratory. (n.d.). Severe Weather 101. https://www.nssl.noaa.gov/education/svrwx101/

Simon, S. (1992). Storms. New York: HarperCollins.

National Geographic. (2021). Lightning. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/lightning

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (2021). Hurricane Katrina. https://www.weather.gov/mob/katrina

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (n.d.). Climate Change and Extreme Weather. https://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/climate-change-and-extreme-weather

National Weather Service. (n.d.). Monsoons. https://www.weather.gov/jetstream/monsoon

National Weather Service. (n.d.). Types of Winter Weather. https://www.weather.gov/safety/winter-ww

National Weather Service. (n.d.). Lightning Safety Tips and Resources. https://www.weather.gov/safety/lightning

National Geographic. (2019). Floods. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/floods

National Geographic. (2019). Storm chasing. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/storm-chasing

National Weather Service. (n.d.). Thunderstorm Basics. https://www.weather.gov/jetstream/tstorms_intro