Thor Would Love This Rare Winter Phenomenon, Thundersnow!

Summertime, that’s when we usually experience thunderstorms with flashes of light followed by loud rumbles.

Back in the old days, young children were told that the occurrence of thunder and lightning was caused by Thor, son of Odin and the Norse god of thunder, the sky, and agriculture. It was said that when you saw lightning, it meant that Thor was in battle with his powerful hammer, Mjöllnir.

Photo: Pexels/Dmitry Zvolskiy

However, in our modern age, we know that lightning is the result of the imbalances between storm clouds and the ground. It’s created when the lower reaches of storm clouds get negatively charged by the collision of particles of rain, snow, or ice. On the other hand, Earth and objects on the ground like trees get positively charged. The build-up of these opposite charges causes the air to lose its insulating capacity and lightning — an extremely hot electrical discharge — occurs.

Meanwhile, thunder is the sound produced by the sudden expansion and contraction of air as lightning passes. It can be heard for a distance of 16 kilometers (10 miles), which should be taken as a warning for people outdoors that they are within the storm’s striking distance and must seek a safe refuge.

Photo: Pexels/Ralph W. Iambrecht

What’s even more dangerous than the occasional occurrence of lightning is the thunderstorm, according to the United States government. Aside from powerful flashes of lightning, thunderstorms can cause very strong winds at more than 50 miles per hour, flash flooding, hail, and tornadoes.

Some people may take lightning strikes lightly — the incidence rate per year of which is less than one in a million. It’s also true that many who have been struck by lightning didn’t die. Nevertheless, most of them have suffered from long-term, debilitating symptoms after being struck by this powerful electrical discharge that’s 5x hotter than the sun’s surface.

You might say then it’s a good thing that there are no thunderstorms during winter, to add to your weather concerns.

Photo: YouTube/FOX Weather

However, this is not true. Thundersnow may be rare, but it occurs, according to National Geographic. And in recent times, based on reports, thundersnow is occurring more frequently — thunder and lightning during a snowstorm. This is especially dangerous because the weather event is followed by more than six inches of snowfall within 24 hours.

Experts are still studying the origin of this winter phenomenon. There are similarities between thunderstorms and thundersnow, but certain conditions present serious gaps, like the roles being played by supercooled liquid and graupel, or granular snow pellets, in the formation of both weather events. There’s less supercooled liquid in wintertime, while its abundance along with graupel in summertime is behind powerful thunderstorms.

Photo: YouTube/FOX Weather

But despite its mysterious nature, scientists have been able to track down thundersnow through a state-of-the-art satellite-borne geostationary lightning mapper. They have also discovered that lightning during a thundersnow event is fewer but larger than lightning during a thunderstorm.

These are the reasons why the studies of Patrick Market, director of the University of Missouri’s School of Natural Resources, and his colleagues, along with Sebastian Harkema, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, are crucial to the future development of thundersnow warning systems. These will help protect people’s lives and properties, including plane flights and rocket launches.

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