Does lightning ever flash during a snowstorm?

A bright flash of lightning is a common sight during a summer storm, but have you ever seen lightning during the colder months, say, during a snowstorm?

Lightning can occur during a snowstorm when a really intense cold front slams into warmer air. That might happen as the seasons change, for example. Lightning during snowstorms might also be more common around a coastal area, where there can be large temperature differences between the ocean and the land.

Thunderstorms with lightning do happen more often in summer, when heat from the ground sends warm air – and water vapor – high into the atmosphere. Up high, the air cools and some of the vapor condenses to form clouds. But, during the day at least, warm air continues to rush up from the ground. Conditions in the clouds become turbulent, with parcels of air moving in different directions.

These turbulent conditions can lead to what’s called a “charge separation” of particles within the cloud. There are different theories on how it happens, but everyone agrees that, once you have a separation of charge, you have a prelude to lightning.

You don’t see as much lightning in cold weather because you don’t often have the highly turbulent conditions inside clouds. Still, lightning can happen in winter, and it can happen during a snowstorm. Have you ever seen it?

December 28, 2010

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