Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Why no lightning in winter?

  1. Jan 22, 2004 #1
    Does anybody know why there are very few thunderstorms during winter?(well, here in Montreal, lightning strikes almost never happen during winter, while they do happen during summer) Maybe it's got to do with the level of humidity in the air?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 22, 2004 #2

    chroot

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Thunderstorms require updrafts that are caused by the evaporation of water in a sort of self-reinforcing process that builds enormously tall cumulonimbus clouds.

    Without enough moisture in the air, the process doesn't happen, just as you suspected.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thunderstorm

    - Warren
     
  4. Jan 22, 2004 #3

    Janus

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Another key word here is "updrafts". Gnerally updrafts are caused by warm air moving upwards and are generated by the Sun's heating. In the Winter, the Sun's surface heating is lessened, and also its ability to generate the needed updrafts.
     
  5. Jan 23, 2004 #4
    Cool! Thx guys.
     
  6. Nov 29, 2010 #5
    check this out, thunder and lightening in a snow cloud?? can you explain this because i though it was not possible

     
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
  7. Nov 29, 2010 #6

    PhanthomJay

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    Looks like the often misnamed 'Heat Lightning', which actually is 'cloud - to - cloud' lightning as opposed to 'cloud - to - ground lightning' . The misnomer 'heat lightning' stems from the fact that often you cannot hear the clap of thunder in such events. Living in New England , I've been through a few severe snowstorms with lightning (thunder snow) present, and wow, these are huge storms with cold air on the north and west side of the Low Pressure area, and warm moist air, on the south and southeast side, feeding in from the southern states and from the southeast warmer waters of the Atlantic Ocean. A marvel of nature to behold, but a pain in the back from snow shoveling the next day (I won't tell you where the real pain is :wink:).

    Edit: I didn't realize how old the original post was! Say, Chris, are you from Ireland, are ya?
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
  8. Nov 29, 2010 #7
    Doesn't lightning only occur in high humidity as well? In the winter, there is barely any humidity in the air, so there's no lightning. Right?
     
  9. Nov 29, 2010 #8

    turbo

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    We usually have thundersnow at least a couple of times each winter. Maine is in a kind of unique place, though, in which we can get arctic highs spilling in from Canada and colliding with warmer, wetter air coming up the Eastern seaboard and off the Gulf of Maine. I'm not sure how the mechanics work, but it's probably got something to do with cold, dense air masses diving under the warmer, moist air and causing those to rise quickly.
     
  10. Nov 29, 2010 #9
    oh okay, because now that I think of it, here in Jersey, I don't remember there being any thundersnow that I can think of, so its different everywhere around the world.
     
  11. Nov 29, 2010 #10

    Evo

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    I've been in snowstorms with lightning, it does happen.

    http://nsidc.org/snow/faq.html
     
    Last edited: Nov 29, 2010
  12. Nov 29, 2010 #11

    DaveC426913

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    I do not live near a (marine) coast, but I have heard thunder in winter. It's rare but not that rare.
     
  13. Nov 29, 2010 #12

    turbo

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    The sound of thunder probably does not carry as well through a blizzard, and people are generally inside when it's winter and the weather is conducive to such storms. I try to get outside a lot, though, and since we have a dog who loves late-night walks with me, I probably see more of the flashes and detect more of the rumbles than most people. It's pretty quiet out here in the boonies.

    I can sleep through almost anything except perhaps that occasional BAM! that jumps you out of bed in the summer when a cold front intrudes and there is a close strike.
     
  14. Nov 29, 2010 #13

    PhanthomJay

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    Wrong:wink:. If it's 32 degrees F (0 degrees C), and the dew point is also 32 degrees F (0 degrees C), then the relative humidity is 100 percent. That means that the air is fully saturated, although at these temperatures, the air cannot hold as much moisture as air at summertime 90 degrees F readings (37 celsius). For this reason, lightning during winter temperatures (I'm not talking Florida winters!) is not a usual event. So that is why when it does occur, you find yourself in one doozy of a storm, with very sharp temperature contrasts between the cold air layer to the north and the overriding warm air layer to the south.
     
  15. Nov 29, 2010 #14

    PhanthomJay

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    I agree. Here in the heart of Red Sox Nation, we usually see, on average, 1 thundersnow event per winter. I have a love/hate relationship with this display of nature. :!!)/:mad:
     
  16. Nov 30, 2010 #15

    russ_watters

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Relative humidity is lower in the winter for much of the US. That's why there is more frost in the fall than in the winter and why it is cloudier in the summer than winter. It's also why the UFO-contrail "sightings" are more prevalent in the fall and winter.
     
    Last edited: Nov 30, 2010
  17. Nov 30, 2010 #16
    yes i'm from Cork in Ireland but i was in dublin when this happening, i though it was really wierd, i'v been travelling around asia and australia and seen some really impressive lightening storms due to humidity but i'v never seen it when it's been so cold plus the snow was falling heavy, in big golfball sized clumps
     
  18. Nov 30, 2010 #17

    PhanthomJay

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    Yes, lightning in winter is associated with intense areas of low pressure with moisture influx. I don't know much about Dublin weather (except it rains a lot, I'm told, and everything is GREEN). I can only attest to New England (USA) weather , based on 50 years of experience, unfortunately.

    That's for sure, a good chunk of the US sees relatively dry air in the winter, even during snow storms where the moisture laden air falls fom the clouds above into the drier air, creating a fluffy loose dry 'powder' snow. All bets are off however along the NE US coast when large intense low pressure areas regenerate off the Carolinas coast, bringing in warm, moisture laden air from the waters to the south, clashing with the colder polar air imported from the jetstream, causing rain/snow events with high relative humidity and fog and rare but not that rare occasional thundersnow for the real intense storms, which I see sometimes once or maybe twice a year tops, but sometimes not at all for a year or 2. Depends.
     
  19. Nov 30, 2010 #18
    Some of the most powerful storms we've had were pulling in tropical air from the Gulf of Mexico on one side while pulling down cold dry air from Canada on the other side. Regardless of the season, this is a recipe for thunderstorms. I often view the windcasts on the Internet. The winds are not strictly around the low pressure systems and high pressure systems. The winds actually spiral away from the high pressure systems toward the low pressure systems. The first time I saw this on a windcast map, I was surprised. A low pressure system of the western coast of Florida was drawing winds from a high pressure system off the coast of Maine resulting in a cold northeast wind from Maine to Florida.
     
    Last edited: Nov 30, 2010
  20. Nov 30, 2010 #19

    turbo

    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Yep, never underestimate the power of the heat-sink that is the Gulf of Maine or the heat-sink that is the Gulf of Mexico.
     
  21. Dec 6, 2010 #20
    Oh okay, I live in the yankee part of the country( New Jersey :tongue:) and I've never heard of any thundersnow around me at all
     
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?



Similar Discussions: Why no lightning in winter?
  1. Nuclear winter (Replies: 3)

  2. Winter Thunder (Replies: 3)

  3. Lightning and uranium (Replies: 2)

  4. Ball Lightning. (Replies: 7)

Loading...