what are thunder showers

You might be asking, what are thunder showers? It’s a weather term that is not used as often as it used to be.

Many people are often confused when it comes to thunder shower vs thunder storm. But technically, they both mean the same thing.

These days, with so little use in common parlance, the word ‘thunder showers’ seems better suited to the world of historical fiction, rather than the world of science.

A thunder shower conjures up images of light summer rain, soft flashes of lightning and gentle rumblings of thunder far, far away. 

Thundershower vs Thunderstorm

Scientists and weather experts, such as those at the National Weather Service, insist on devising clear definitions to describe the natural phenomena they observe.

thunderstorm in night sky

They hold the view that once a weather system produces lightning, it is a thunderstorm.

Therefore, a thunder shower is a thunderstorm.

This stands true regardless of how heavily it rains, the wind blows, or how often and how near the lightning strikes or even how loud the thunder is.

How the weather conditions typical of thunderstorms are experienced depends on how close the observer is to the storm.

Fact: Experiencing a thunder shower suggests the subject was not very close but is not sufficiently measurable to be useful to science. 

How Thunderstorms Work

As a parcel of warm air rises and is pushed and buoyed on by the air rising behind it, it begins to cool the higher up it gets pushed.

The water vapor which is carried as moisture within it, loses its heat to the air around it and as it cools condenses into water droplets.

These droplets form cumulonimbus clouds with an anvil shape that is typical of thunderclouds. Eventually, the water drops are too cold and too heavy to remain aloft and fall as rain. 

The Thunder and Lightning

thunderstorm and clouds with lightning

Lightning is electricity that is discharged when negative ions at the bottom of the cloud attract positive ions in the ground.

 If it gets strong enough, a flow of negatively charged ions moves rapidly down from the cloud to the ground. 

Since the lightning is extremely hot, the air around it expands explosively fast creating the shock wave we hear as thunder.

All thunderstorms work this way but isolated single-cell storms tend to be the shortest-lived.

Fact: Some people simply cannot stand the idea of witnessing a thunderstorm, and the medical name for this is "astraphobia", which is the fear of lightning and thunder. 

Know When a Storm Turns into a Thunderstorm

In the science of meteorology, a storm becomes a thunderstorm from the moment it produces its first lightning bolt. And this also includes what we think of as thundershowers.

To the experts studying the weather, a thundershower is the same as a thunderstorm.

Taking this firm stance makes sense when you consider how thunder and lightning can be seen and heard across miles.

It also includes that light summer rainfall, which could be the edge of a downpour happening just around the corner. 

Are All Thunderstorms the Same?

bright thunderstorm at night

All any thunderstorm needs to form is moisture and rising warm air to produce an airflow that makes up a cell. This is why thunderstorms tend to happen in late summer.

A looping air current rises up as an updraft as it is warmed and falls back down as a downdraft as it reaches higher altitudes and cools.

This vertically rotating air mass of warm and cold air exists as one single unit or entity. As such, it is capable of movement. This can make some storms especially dangerous. 

Understanding the Concept of Cell

thunderstorm and heavy clouds

A potential storm mass has to produce at least one cell although it is quite usual for there to be several more.

Observing and counting the number of cells is how thunderstorms are sorted and classified.

Observing cell movement and behavior can help predict the storm’s path and its intensity.

There are four main kinds of thunderstorms, which are,

  • The Ordinary, Single Cell
  • The Multicell
  • The Squall Line
  • The Supercell

The Ordinary or Single Cell Thunderstorm

The ordinary or single-cell thunderstorm is also called a random, pulse or ‘pop-up’ storm.

They are hard to predict and seem to come out of clear blue skies, usually late on warm afternoons.

single cell thunderstorm

Single-cell thunderstorms, often known as “popcorn” convection, are short-lived, feeble storms that develop and dissipate within an hour.

The heat of the afternoon sun is usually what powers them. Heavy rain and lightning are possible during the brief duration of a single-cell storm.

By the way, single-cell thunderstorms are sometimes isolated thundershowers as well. 

What are Isolated Thunder Showers?

If you have ever asked what are isolated thundershowers exactly, they are single-cell storms that can form when very localized conditions are just right.

Some of these conditions include:

  • The right temperature
  • The right kind of moisture source
  • The right wind conditions
isolated thunderstorm and ocean

Thunderstorms like these stay localized because conditions are different in the area immediately around them where it could be colder or drier. 

The Multicell Storm

This is the most frequent kind of thunderstorm. Unlike a single-cell thunderstorm, a multicell thunderstorm can last several hours.

New cells form and disperse along the cooler leading edge of the storm. This is called the gust front.

Each cell can last as long an hour as the storm produces strong winds, rain falling as hail or even short-lived tornadoes. 

An Important Thing to Know

Even in a cell clustered storm, each cell behaves independently although it moves within a conveyor belt of cells.

Each is pushed downstream by the upper-level winds so that as it matures and dissipates, there is another already formed to take its place.

Fact: More people are injured or killed by lightning each year than by tornadoes and hurricanes combined, as the thunderstorm can go as far as ten to twelve miles. 

The Squall Line

up close photo of dark clouds

A Squall line is a long thin line of storms, typically only ten miles or so wide although they can stretch out over hundreds of miles.

They are short-lived, creating quick but heavy squalls of wind and rain and small tornadoes.

When tracked by radar, the squall line is revealed as a bowed line of storms with circulations of air currents at either end.

Strong winds at the center of the bow cause the line to bow out even further. How far the line bows is an indication of how strong the winds are. 

An Important Consideration

Momentary twisters or tornadoes may be observed at the forefront of a bow echo.

Over time, the north side of a bow echo might become more prominent, leading to the development of a comma-shaped storm complex. 

The Supercell

supercell thunderstorm with clouds

The Supercell thunderstorm is the largest and most violent kind of storm.

The cells within it are considered better organized, than the random cells of other storms. Supercells also last a lot longer, are more intense and produce violent tornadoes.

The tornadoes are formed because the rising current of air, the rotating updraft, is slightly tilted.

The distance covered by the tilting updraft can be enormous with a 10-mile diameter not unusual, and huge cumulonimbus cloud towers up to 50,000 feet tall. 

How Long Does It Take for Thunderstorms to Form?

There are few things deadlier than a thunderstorm in the United States.

Lightning, which is produced by every thunderstorm, is among the top weather-related killers in the United States. And therefore, it is important to learn a bit about the warning signs of an approaching thunderstorm.

Watching for changes in the weather is a good way to receive a head’s up about an impending thunderstorm. And it also makes sense to tune into the weather channel for regular updates.

At the same time, you should keep an eye out for shifts like:

  • Darkening clouds
  • Large cumulus clouds
  • Quick changes in the direction of the wind
  • Sudden change in atmospheric pressure
  • An abrupt drop in temperature

Keeping an eye on these indicators is crucial because thunderstorms can take less than 30 minutes to form and last for a number of hours.  

Fact: On average, though, a thunderstorm lasts only 30 minutes and spreads out across a region of 15 miles wide. 

So What are Thunder Showers? – Our Final Verdict

deep purple sky and thunderstorm

What are thundershowers? Thundershowers and thunderstorms are technically the same.

They refer to a rather violent but short-lived weather disturbance, which is also associated with thunder, lightning, heavy rain, dense clouds, and strong winds.

Any season is fair game for thunderstorms, but June often sees the most action.