The Terminology Behind Thunderstorms

August 4, 2014 4:04 pm

lightning20Ever wondered about summer thunderstorms? Why do they always seem to appear during our holidays? In fact, this is the season where almighty Thor’s lightning storms thrive.

According to the science blog, HowStuffWorks, thunderstorms have two basic conditions, that is, moisture and rapidly rising warm air. Both of which are very much present during the summer. So, how does this type of weather appear?

In ancient times, it was thought to be the Gods in action, but nowadays, with a little more understanding of our world, we may provide an accurate explanation of this type of storm.

From a terminologist point of view, there are several useful terms associated with thunderstorms, so naturally we decided to educate you on them.

Explaining the emergence of a thunderstorm is thus as simple as describing warm and moist air rising into the atmosphere. Yet, the source of a lightning storm stems from different clouds and its composition of water and ice. As the cold and dry air among the clouds meets the warm air rising from Earth’s surface, the clouds engage in, indeed, a peculiar type of behaviour.

Electrons in water molecules are knocked off by the rising moist air, which creates a so-called charge separation. This can be defined as the way electrons move from one point to the other, leaving the upper part of the cloud to have a positive charge, whereas the lower part becomes negatively charged. Another useful term here is an electric field, which characterises the electrical charges, i.e. negative and positive, of the cloud.

As warm and moist air continues to rise into the cold abyss it begins to freeze. The phenomenon described above continues to engage in charge separation until the point where electric field becomes so intense that the positively charged Earth’s surface gets its electrons repelled. This is called the repulsion of electrons.

The last term in this context is a conductive path, which simply explains why lightning strikes appear. In this stage, the negative part of the cloud conducts electric currents to the positively charged surface, which takes the form of a thunderstorm as we know it.

Science aside, I tend to enjoy the occasional thunderstorms during summer. The atmosphere does bring about a sense of a cosy vibe, where you stay (hopefully) indoors, and perhaps watch the lightning strike by the window. And if you’re anything like me, you’d count the seconds when the lightning strike is painted across the sky until you hear the rumbling thunder.

Click here to find a glossary on thunderstorms.



By Oscar Larsson
Student at University of Glasgow, School of Social & Political Sciences
Communication Trainee at TermCoord

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