Shop Windows to the Universe

Learn about planets outside our solar system through Exoplanets and Alien Solar Systems by Tahir Yaqoob, Ph.D., a book in our online store book collection.
Most thunderstorms contain three phases: (A) the cumulus stage; (B) the mature stage; (C) dissipating stage.
Click on image for full size
Windows to the Universe Original

Thunderstorm Formation

Most thunderstorms contain three stages: the cumulus stage, the mature stage, and the dissipating stage.

Cumulus Stage
During the first phase, the sun heats the ground during the day, which then heats the air. Since warm air is lighter than cool air, it starts to rise. If the air is moist, then the warm air condenses into a cumulus cloud. The cloud will continue to grow as long as warm air below it continues to rise.

Mature Stage
When the cumulus cloud becomes very large, the water in it becomes large and heavy. Raindrops start to fall through the cloud when the rising air can no longer hold them up. At the same time, cool dry air starts to enter the cloud. Because cool air is heavier than warm air, it starts to go lower in the cloud. This pulls the heavy water downward, which makes rain.

This cloud has become a cumulonimbus cloud. Thunder and lightning start to occur, as well as heavy rain. The cumulonimbus is now a thunderstorm cell.

Dissipating Stage
After about 30 minutes, the thunderstorm begins to break up. The storm dies out with light rain as the cloud disappears from bottom to top.

The whole process takes about one hour for a normal thunderstorm. Supercell thunderstorms are much larger, more powerful, and last for several hours.

Last modified May 27, 2010 by Becca Hatheway.

Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!

The Fall 2009 issue of The Earth Scientist, which includes articles on student research into building design for earthquakes and a classroom lab on the composition of the Earth’s ancient atmosphere, is available in our online store.

Windows to the Universe Community

News

Opportunities

You might also be interested in:

Traveling Nitrogen Classroom Activity Kit

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more

Thunderstorms

Thunderstorms are one of the most exciting and dangerous types of weather. Over 40,000 thunderstorms happen around the world each day. Thunderstorms form when very warm, moist air rises into cold air....more

Condensation

Condensation is when water changes its state from a vapor or gas to a liquid. Condensation is responsible for the formation of clouds. Common examples of condensation are: dew forming on grass in the early...more

Cumulus

Cumulus clouds belong to the Clouds with Vertical Growth group. They are puffy white or light gray clouds that look like floating cotton balls. Cumulus clouds have sharp outlines and a flat base. Seeing...more

Rain

Raindrops form when tiny water droplets collide together in clouds to form bigger ones. When they get too heavy, rain falls out of the clouds. Rain is more than 5mm in diameter. The types of clouds that...more

Cumulonimbus

Cumulonimbus clouds belong to the Clouds with Vertical Growth group. They are also known as thunderstorm clouds. A cumulonimbus cloud can grow up to 10km high. At this height, high winds make the top...more

Thunder and Lightning

Lightning is the coolest thing about a thunderstorm. In fact, it is how thunderstorms got their name. Wait a minute, what does thunder have to do with lightning? Well, lightning causes thunder. Lightning...more

Supercell Thunderstorms and Squall Lines

A supercell thunderstorm is a huge rotating thunderstorm. It can last for several hours. These storms are likely to form long lasting tornadoes and large hail. There are two types of supercell thunderstorms....more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA