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Beware the Thundersnow

From Audio: The Wonders of Thundersnow

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station description You see it every day. It’s the subject of poetry, literature, art and film. It can ... read more
Weather Geeks
Duration: 04:29
Thundersnow, while it sounds edgy and cool, is actually incredibly dangerous. Thunderstorms in the winter are rare and they should be regarded with just as much caution as summer storms. Lightning travels quicker through snow and victims often don't expect lightning to strike in winter.
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Thundersnow, while it sounds edgy and cool, is actually incredibly dangerous. Thunderstorms in the winter are rare and they should be regarded with just as much caution as summer storms. Lightning travels quicker through snow and victims often don't expect lightning to strike in winter. Matthew Cappucci, Undergraduate at Harvard & Capital Weather Gang Contributor Description tells us more about it.
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Yeah. One of the things that comes to mind, uh, you know, it's clearly kind of a neat thing and we kind of uh, as meteorologists are in awe of it, but it's actually pretty dangerous if you're kind of caught out in one of these sort of thunderstorms is thunder, snow events within a snow environment. Have people been struck by these? I I think I remember at least recently there was a fatality or at least someone struck by. How how often does that happen? I know there was a fatality recently. I don't recall exactly where it was. I do know in 1990 and crystal lake Illinois, they're actually nine people severely injured when lightning struck an electrical pole and the charge traveled through the snow. And this was in the middle of a snowstorm and injured those nine people who are shoveling or pushing stranded motorists. So it's extremely dangerous. Likewise, I know February 9 2017, a number of house fires were started in providence Rhode Island. And that's why lightning in the wintertime is just as dangerous as in the summertime or any other season. If you see lightning, if you hear thunder you have to stay indoors, you don't wanna be outside shoveling or moving around because lightning can strike and with snow on the ground that charge can travel even farther. Yeah, I would even perhaps argue that it may be even more dangerous in the wintertime because people just aren't expecting it and they're out playing in the snow or reveling in the fun winter environment. You might just not be expecting it. So I think from a acclimatization or just an expectation standpoint that that could lower our expectation level for these events. Yeah, definitely. I know last year there was an event or two years ago and I actually stayed in the roof here at Harvard for about 4.5 hours in the middle of a blizzard waiting for. Finally we got one flash and then we got a couple after that and I was texting on my friends, you know, don't be outside. There was a snowball fight going on in Harvard Yard. I was trying to convince people know this is dangerous and people just didn't take it as seriously as they ought to. And I'm hoping going forward people kind of heed these warnings and really consider how dangerous it is exactly now. You know, I'm a meteorologist and I am the director of an atmospheric scientist program. But I also, I matriculated a geography department. So let's talk about the geography of Thunder snow. Where is Thunder snow most common there are there any geographical preferences? And if so, why? Ah there are probably about three or four different hotspots across the United States and they all form in different ways. So the Intermountain west is a great area in the wintertime, I'd say, especially from december through early february to get these isolated thunder snowstorms, you know have all the mountains out there. It's easy for pockets of air to be forced upwards extremely quickly. But on a very local level. So you won't get widespread thunder snow instead, you'll get maybe a brief pulse here or pulse there where you get an intense snow shower that can produce a bolt of lightning or two, but not very widespread. Then in november to early january over the great Plains. So especially Iowa Nebraska, northern Kansas that neck of the woods, you can get larger scale storm systems where you have what's called overrunning. So there's cold air at the ground, cold air for probably about two or 3000 ft and then above that warm air enough to sustain a thunderstorm, but the precipitation falls as snow so it forms more in the way of a typical thunderstorm. But instead you can get much more widespread thunder snow. Now we travel to the Great Lakes, there was lake effect snow bands, especially from probably october to late december, early january. When you have a lake effect snow band, the water temperatures are warmer than the air temperatures significantly. And so you can get massive updrafts of rapidly rising air producing those epic snowfall right to see him. You know, buffalo Rochester new york with 6 to 9 inches of snow per hour and intense thunder snow, sometimes even small hail. And then off the east Coast we sometimes get either squalls along the cold front that can occasionally produce lightning. Or more commonly. Those big nor research type storms like the so called bomb cyclone on january 4th of last year that produce the C. S. I. The slant wise rising air needed to get your separation and eventually thunder snow. So a number of different hotspots all form for different reasons but it's just as mystical and magical every single place. Yeah. And I think that I think you did a nice job sort of wrapping that into sort of a discussion because no thunderstorm event depending on the geography is the same. I think they're very different mechanisms depending on where they are. What internationally do are there any hot spots that you know of or if you're not really looked into that? Mm.
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