Home   »   Geography   »   Thunderstorms

Thunderstorms, Structure, Stages, Formation & Diagram


A thunderstorm is an intense atmospheric circulation associated with large, dense cumulonimbus clouds in which there is a strong upward movement of air.  Thunderstorms cause heavy downpours, and therefore, they are called ‘cloud bursts,’ but the rainfall is of a very short duration.  This article will help you understand thunderstorms and how they form due to updrafts and downdrafts. It also discusses briefly the three stages of thunderstorms, namely the cumulus stage, the mature stage, and the dissipating stage. Aspirants preparing for the UPSC IAS Exam will find this article extremely useful.

Thunderstorm Structure

A Thunderstorm consists of several convective cells characterized by strong updraft air. Each cell passes through a life cycle. These phases of the life cycle consist of youth, maturity, and the old stage.

Stage Details
First Stage It is the cumulus stage when warm air rises strongly upward and helps in the formation of clouds.
Second Stage It is a mature stage characterized by both the upward and downward movement of winds and the occurrence of rainfall.
Third stage The third stage is dissipating stage, characterized by the downward movement of winds that spread over the ground surface and stop the vertical movement of winds.

Read More: Types of Winds

Thunderstorms Diagram

Here is an illustration of various stages in the development of thunderstorms.

Thunderstorms Diagram
Thunderstorms Stages

Read More: List of Major Local Winds

Thunderstorms Formation

Thunderstorms are caused by Cumulonimbus Clouds, which form when there is a rapid rise or movement of warm and moist air. Cumulonimbus clouds can form at heights of more than 20 kilometres and are formed by the upward movement of warm, moist air. When warm, moist air rises, it cools and condenses, resulting in the formation of cumulonimbus clouds. When rising air reaches its dew point temperature, water vapour condenses into water droplets or ice. This causes a local decrease in pressure within the thunderstorm cell.

Any precipitation that falls through the clouds travels a long distance to the Earth’s surface. When the smaller droplets that are falling down collide with other droplets, larger droplets form. The falling droplets cause a downdraft by pulling cold air with them, and this cold air spreads out over the Earth’s surface. This causes the strong winds that are common during thunderstorms.

Thunderstorm and Weather

Surface heating through intense insolation, mainly during summer on land surfaces, causes a convective mechanism resulting in an updraft of air and condition for precipitation.

1. Rainfall

Rainfall is in the form of a heavy downpour with the greatest intensity of all other forms of precipitation but of short duration.

2. Hailstorm

When condensation occurs below the freezing point, ice particles of big size are formed. Not every thunderstorm produces hail. Hail falls on the ground surface when they are capable of overcoming the force of rising convection currents.

3. Lighting

Electric discharge centres are developed in a mature thunderstorm. Positive and negative electric charges develop in the upper and lower portions of clouds. Lighting is produced when the electrical potential gradient between the electrical charges becomes steep.

4. Thundering

Sound is produced due to the sudden and rapid expansion of air columns caused by intense heat resulting from lightning strokes.

Read More: Types of Clouds

Are Thunderstorms Dangerous?

  • Thunderstorms and the phenomena that accompany them can pose a number of hazards to people and the environment. Thunderstorms are usually the cause of flash floods and large hailstones.
  • Every year, flash floods kill more people than hurricanes, tornadoes, or lightning.
  • Thunderstorm cells that are more powerful produce tornadoes and waterspouts.
  • Every year, lightning causes many fires around the world and kills people.
  • Hail up to the size of softballs can cause extensive damage to vehicles and even kill livestock if they are not protected.
  • Strong winds associated with thunderstorms cause damage to trees, power lines, and a variety of public properties.
  • Tornadoes with speeds of up to 300 miles per hour can destroy everything, sparing only the best-built man-made structures.

Read More: Types of Rocks

Thunderstorms UPSC

  • Tornadoes and thunderstorms are severe local storms. They are brief and occur over a small area, but they are violent.
  • A thunderstorm is a storm that includes thunder and lightning, as well as heavy rain or hail.
  • Thunderstorms are most common when the temperature is high. Because of the cold, thunderstorms are less common in bodies of water.
  • Every year, an estimated 16 million thunderstorms occur worldwide, with approximately 2,000 thunderstorms active at any given time.

Other Indian Geography Topics

Seasons of India Mountains of India
Mangrove Forests in India Important Mountain Passes in India
Monsoon in India
Indus River System
Climate of India
Rivers of India
Tributaries of Ganga
National Parks in India
Important Dams in India
Wildlife Sanctuaries of India
Tiger Reserves in India
Northern Plains of India
Physiography of India
Important Lakes of India
Wetlands in India
Biodiversity in India
Natural Vegetation in India Earthquakes in India
Types of Soil in India
Ramsar Sites in India
Brahmaputra River System
Hydropower Plants in India
Nuclear Power Plants in India
Major Ports in India
Biosphere Reserves in India
Waterfalls in India

Other Fundamental Geography Topics

Solar System Types of Clouds
Structure of the Atmosphere Himalayan Ranges
Component of Environment
El Nino and La Nina
Coral Reef
Continental Drift Theory
Endogenic and Exogenic Forces
Indian Ocean Region
Pacific Ocean
Indian Ocean Dipole
Air Pollution
Environmental Impact Assessment
Tropical Cyclone
Western Disturbances
Types of Rocks

Sharing is caring!


What is a thunderstorm UPSC?

A thunderstorm is an electric storm that also produces lightning. Lightning strikes during a scattered thunderstorm produce a noticeable audible effect in the Earth's atmosphere.

What happens in a thunderstorm?

Thunderstorms are characterised by lightning and thunder. Supercell thunderstorms are the most severe type of thunderstorm, causing severe tornadoes, damaging winds, and large hail.

What causes thunderstorms?

Layers of warm, moist air rise in a strong updraft to cooler areas of the atmosphere, causing thunderstorms. The moisture in the updraft condenses there, forming imposing cumulonimbus clouds and, eventually, precipitation.

What are the causes of lightning?

During a thunderstorm, when a charged cloud passes over an uncharged cloud, the uncharged cloud is inducted with the opposing charge and the two clouds are attracted to one another. When they combine, they generate a large amount of heat, light, and sound, also known as lightning.

How do you explain lightning and thunder?

The sound made by a lightning strike is known as thunder. Lightning quickly heats the air as it passes through it. This causes the air to rapidly expand, producing a thunderous sound wave. Thunder can usually be heard about 10 miles away from a lightning strike.


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *