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Do You Know the Different Types of Thunderstorms?

7 May 2017, 5:06 pm

Thunderstorms can be as unique as fingerprints with each one having it’s own character.  That said, we do classify thunderstorms by type for their general configuration and action. Here are several types of thunderstorms.

Single-cell: Single-cell thunderstorms are generally brief, small and relatively weak storms that will generally last around an hour or so.  These storms can set up a better environment for stronger storms but are themselves not often severe.  They will bring brief heavy rain, lightning and windy conditions. These storms generally occur in a lower moisture environment where the storms stay more isolated from each other. Most of these single-cell storms are slow moving and some can be nearly stationary.

Multi-cell: Multi-cell thunderstorms are  basically a line or cluster of thunderstorms building one after the other in a common area moving in a common direction.  These storms are in a more unstable environment in which new updrafts form along the leading edge of rain-cooled air (the gust front). The individual cells usually last around 30 minutes to an hour, but the whole system of storms can last many hours.  Most individual storms in a multi-cell complex don’t produce severe weather but some do, producing hail, strong winds, brief tornadoes, flooding and of course lightning.

Squall line:  A squall line (also known as a quasi-linear convective system or QLCS) is a line of thunderstorms generally forming ahead of a cold front.  Squall lines can be hundreds of miles long but are typically only 10 or 20 miles wide.

These quickly advancing storms, arranged in a line will generate strong winds and heavy rain along their path and can produce severe conditions. While squall lines are less prone to tornadoes than say super-cell thunderstorms they will and do produce tornadoes.  Squall lines can also produce very strong, long lived wind storms known as Derechos.

Mesoscale Convective System (MCS):  Mesoscale Convective Systems are a very energetic collection of thunderstorms that form a storm system.  There are a few types of MCS’s and many of these can last more than 12 hours.  The cluster of storms known as a MCS can be circular or linear in shape and and include weather systems such as tropical cyclones, squall lines, lake-effect snow events, polar lows, and Mesoscale Convective Complexes (MCCs), and generally form near weather fronts.


Super-cells:  Super-cell thunderstorms are are strong, long lived, highly organized,rotating storms with strong updrafts that maintain and fuel these storms. The updraft within super-cell thunderstorms can have a 10 mile diameter footprint and can extend up to 50,000 feet into the troposphere.  Super-cell thunderstorms are referred to as a mesocyclone as the rotation of these storms show up on Doppler radar. These storms can be the most destructive as most large and violent tornadoes occur in super-cell storms.  These storms along with other severe thunderstorms can produce large hail, strong winds, flooding and of course lightning in addition to strong, violent long track tornadoes. 

For Weather Nation: Meteorologist Mike Morrison

One response to “Do You Know the Different Types of Thunderstorms?

  1. the different types of lightening. what I call ‘sheet lightening’, stays in clouds. then cloud to cloud lightening, makes a great light show. then cloud to ground or ground to cloud.

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