Thundersnow

We’ve heard plenty about thunder and lightning occurring during an ordinary thunderstorm, but did you know that it’s also possible to have thunder and lightning during a snowstorm? This phenomenon is commonly known as thundersnow. According to an article published by National Geographic in 2009, thundersnow is caused by an unstable air mass which is cold enough to produce wintery precipitation. The occurrence of thundersnow is also linked to heavier snowfall rates within powerful blizzards or heavy snow squalls.

The occurrence of thundersnow is relatively rare, proving to be the most common in strong squalls of snow. The amount of energy and atmospheric instability needed to create such an event is usually uncommon during the winter months due to cooler temperatures. However, with a strong burst of cold air that meets warmer air, it creates a typical “thunderstorm-like” environment that is favorable for lightning and thunder.

For further reading on the science behind the occurrence of thundersnow, here are some other studies that have investigated the topic:

Climatology of Thundersnow Events over the Contiguous United States

An Overview of Thundersnow

A Review of Thundersnow Events across the United States

Although the occurrence of thundersnow is rare, there are areas that have better chances of experiencing such events. Portions of the northern Midwest and Great Lakes regions have statistically seen more confirmed thundersnow events. However, thundersnow can occur anywhere, as long as the atmospheric dynamics are present.

So what exactly does a thundersnow event look and sound like? Well, it’s basically like a thunderstorm while it’s snowing. Usually, instead of seeing a bolt of lightning, the sky is illuminated by a flash. Not long after the flash of lightning, the thunder roars. An interesting fact also discussed in the above research is that the snow acts as a sound suppressor. Unlike being able to hear thunder from many miles away, the thunder that occurs in a thundersnow event is fairly localized.

I will leave you now with some examples of recent thundersnow events. Some of my favorite clips involve The Weather Channel Meteorologist Jim Cantore. Jim has had some major luck when it comes to having thundersnow interrupt his live and recorded broadcasts, and his reactions are priceless.

Jim Cantore; Harrisburg, PA; “Snowtober” 2011
Ginger Zee; Topeka, KS; 2-21-13
Jim Cantore; Worcester, MA; 12-7-96

Jim Cantore; Chicago, IL; 2-2-11 (best Cantore reaction!)

Kyle B. Swartz; Chicago IL; 2-2-11

On a personal note, I am asking of my followers and viewers to participate and share my survey regarding the use of social media to disperse vital news, weather, and emergency information. This survey is part of my research project for an honors contract at my college and I am hoping to collect at least 500 responses. The survey is a quick ten questions and should only take about two to three minutes. Thank you in advance!
Link to survey: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1hJ2SNBwvh_jPXQjJC2skbdhNXD5nTwr_xsG3CuPSm2I/viewform

Naming Winter Storms

Although it’s only the beginning of October, all of that snow in South Dakota and Wyoming has got me thinking about The Weather Channel’s thought of naming winter systems. Ever since last winter, The Weather Channel (TWC) has been naming every winter storm that has developed, regardless of how the storm “performed” with its precipitation. Although TWC promotes the idea, the same idea is frowned upon in much of the meteorological world. Additionally, the National Weather Service has even criticized the idea to name winter storms. This blog post is going to represent both sides of the debate on naming winter storms so that you, the reader, can make a decision whether the ides of naming winter storms should be promoted or thrown in the dumpster.

Let’s look through the perspective of The Weather Channel regarding the naming of winter storms. Citing the use of names by the National Hurricane Center (NHC) for tropical systems, TWC justifies the idea of naming winter storms as a way to “raise awareness.” An article published on TWC’s website in November 2012, “Why The Weather Channel is Naming Winter Storms” by Tom Niziol, explains the thought behind the concept of naming winter systems. TWC discusses the benefits of the idea will “raise the awareness of the public, which will lead to more pro-active efforts to plan ahead, resulting in less impact and inconvenience overall.”

Although it’s not entirely known what criterion is used by TWC to officiate the naming of a winter system, it is known from their press release that “naming will occur no more than three days prior to a winter storm’s expected impact.” They justify this limit by stating that it will “ensure that there is strong confidence the system could have a significant effect on large populations.” In a USA Today article written by Doyle Rice, there is a mention that the storm-naming criterion is also based on the National Weather Service’s thresholds for winter-weather warnings.

From their blog post earlier this month, the Capital Weather Gang (CWG), affiliated with the Washington Post, pointed out that The Weather Channel’s press release “makes the case for why it’s fit to effectively be the parent [of naming winter storms].” Additionally, CWG also points out the implication TWC makes that they are “as qualified as the National Hurricane Center (which names tropical storms).” Within this same press release, TWC states “The Weather Channel has the meteorological ability, support, and technology to bring a more systematic approach to naming winter storms, similar to the way tropical storms have been named.” However, with The Weather Channel, a mere media outlet, comparing itself to be on par with a government organization, this is where many of TWC’s opponents voice criticism.

From the opposition to the idea of naming winter systems, most cite the lack of criterion in order for a winter storm to “earn” its name. Another support of the opposing beliefs is that the National Weather Service voiced opposition and refusal to use the idea through an administrative message that was sent out during a nor’easter in November 2012. As meteorologist Brad Panovich of WCNC stated on his blog post, “since the NWS isn’t using the names, this means the Associated Press and many other media outlets will not be using the names either.” This brings up the slaying truth to TWC’s intended “awareness”, if they are the only media outlet to use it, how much awareness is the name itself generating compared to the mention of the storm, without a name, by all the other media outlets? Lastly, the third reason many cite while opposing the idea is TWC’s cravings for ratings. The Weather Channel, owned by NBC, needs the ratings, just like any other television station, to remain on-air. With much of the ratings leaving traditional television and moving to internet and social media, many tie the ideal of naming winter systems with the ease of internet tagging. Regardless of those who support or oppose the idea of naming winter storms, it will eventually come down to whether any more organizations, government or media, will adopt the new idea.

What do you think about the naming of winter storms? Leave a comment explaining why you agree or disagree with the TWC’s idea below!