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This photograph shows the build-up of cumulus clouds.
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Courtesy of Steve Albers

Types of Thunderstorms

There are two main types of thunderstorms: ordinary and severe. Ordinary thunderstorms are the common summer storm. They are usually multicell. Multicell storms consist of a line of thunderstorms in different stages of development.

Ordinary thunderstorms last about one hour. The precipitation associated with them is rain and occasionally small hail. An ordinary thunderstorm cloud can have a vertical extent up to 12 kilometers.

Severe thunderstorms are the most dangerous weather phenomenon in the United States. They are capable of producing baseball-sized hail, strong winds, intense rain, flash floods, and tornadoes. Severe thunderstorms can last several hours and can reach a vertical extent of 18 kilometers. Several phenomena are associated with severe thunderstorms. These include the gust front, microburst, supercell thunderstorm, and the squall line.



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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF