Stormy Weather

March 1, 2019
A bolt of lightning strikes the ground in Nebraska.
JOHN FINNEY PHOTOGRAPHY

The sky is dark and the air is thick. Lightning flashes and thunder claps. Winds blow. Heavy rain falls. It’s a thunderstorm! The National Severe Storms Laboratory says there are 16 million thunderstorms in the world each year. At any moment, about 2,000 of them are taking place. “Thunderstorms can happen at any time,” Patrick Marsh told TFK. He’s a weather scientist. “But thunderstorms are more likely in the summer than in the winter.”

Patrick Marsh is a meteorologist, or weather scientist. He is based in Norman, Oklahoma.

JAMES MURNAN/NOAA

Forming a Storm

A storm is a powerful disturbance of the atmosphere. Add lightning and thunder into the mix, and it’s a thunderstorm. Thunderstorms can be dangerous. They can bring strong winds and hail. Heavy rains can cause flooding. And lightning is very powerful and hot (see “It’s Striking!”). It can hurt people.

Lightning flashes over Perth, Australia.

BEAU VAN DER GRAFF EYEM/GETTY IMAGES

Being aware of the weather can help keep people safe. That’s where meteorologists like Marsh come in. Meteorologists are scientists who study the weather. They use tools such as satellites and radar. These tools help them predict when a storm is coming and how bad it will be. By making predictions, meteorologists can warn people when severe weather is on the way.

What’s the best way to stay safe during a thunderstorm? “When you see lightning, it’s time to go inside,” Marsh told TFK. “And when you’re inside, stay away from the windows.”

Thunderstorms can be loud and startling. But they’re nothing to be afraid of. “You don’t need to be scared of thunderstorms if you take the proper actions,” Marsh says. “Just think of thunderstorms as grumpy clouds.”

It’s Striking!

KEVIN J. SALISBURY/ GETTY IMAGES

Lightning is a quick, powerful burst of electricity. It forms in a storm cloud. Lightning happens fast. And it is more than five times hotter than the sun. Lightning can flash inside a storm cloud. It can flash from one cloud to another. It can also strike the ground.

Thunder is the sound that lightning makes. But we hear a clap of thunder after we see a flash of lightning. That’s because light travels much faster than sound.

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