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Thunderstorms

Laurissa Anyas-Weiss, content producer

May 12, 2009 — Thunderstorms are essentially rainstorms with lightning and thunder. Other weather phenomena associated with thunderstorms includes winds, rain, hail and even tornadoes. They can be very dangerous causing extensive damage to people and their property.

Thunderstorms can have such a huge impact, as a result they are continuously studied to learn more about them.

Numerous studies conclude that a thunderstorm goes through a distinct cycle. It begins with warm and humid air near the ground. Since warm air is buoyant, it rises, forming an updraft. As the air rises, it cools and the water vapour in the air condenses into water droplets, becoming a cumulus cloud.

When the cumulus cloud grows beyond the freezing level in the atmosphere the water vapour turns into ice crystals. The water droplets and ice crystals inside the cloud keep getting bigger and heavier as the cloud continues to build. The droplets become so heavy that the updraft can no longer support their weight and they start to fall as rain.

As well, dry air around the cloud is drawn into the process. Some of the rain evaporates into the dry air, cooling the air, making it heavy, and causing it to rush to the ground as a downdraft. Eventually, the downdraft dominates the whole cumulus cloud. With no updraft to supply the cloud with more heat and moisture, the cloud shrinks and the thunderstorm cycle ends.

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