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Thunderstorms Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Danielle Lavallo

Danielle has taught computer technology and gifted education classes. She has a master's degree in teaching and learning.

The wind starts to pick up and the sky grows dark with clouds. All of a sudden you see a bright flash and hear a loud rumble. If you're not already, it's a good time to get inside! Find out how a thunderstorm forms, where and when they occur most, and how to protect yourself if you're caught in one.

What is a Thunderstorm?

A thunderstorm is a rain storm with thunder and lightning. Thunder is the sound made by hot lightning causing the air to quickly expand and contract. You may also hear them called electrical storms, due to the fact that lightning is an electrical force. Thunderstorms are considered 'severe' when they contain ¾- 1-inch hail, winds of 58 mph or higher, or a tornado.

How Do Thunderstorms Form?

Moisture in the air forms cumulonimbus clouds, which are heavy, dark, and full of rain. Warm, humid, unstable air quickly rises, causing the clouds to grow bigger and higher. Mountains, fronts, or sea breezes lift the unstable air, making it rise even higher. Mix the three together (moisture, unstable air, and lift), and you have everything you need to make a thunderstorm!

Moisture in the air forms this cumulonimbus cloud. The air becomes unstable, and when a breeze or some other force lifts it, you have a thunderstorm.

The Three Stages of a Thunderstorm

The first stage is called the developing or 'towering cumulous' stage. This is when you may see dark clouds (cumulous clouds) rise quickly. You may hear lightning in the distance before you hear any thunder or see any rain.

In the second, or mature stage, the falling rain or hail causes a downdraft, meaning that air is being pushed down. This is when you see the most rain, wind, and lightning, and also the time when hail and tornadoes are most likely to happen.

The third and final stage is the dissipating stage, when the skies grow calmer and the storm moves away. Most thunderstorms last only about 30-60 minutes.

The three stages of a thunderstorm

When and Where Do Thunderstorms Occur?

Thunderstorms happen all around the world, but mostly in places that are warm and humid. They can happen all year, even during snowstorms, but we see them the most during the hot and humid months of spring and summer.

They can occur at any time of day, although they happen more often in the afternoon and evening hours after the sun has heated the earth and the air above it, enabling that air to rise.

While they happen in every one of the United States, there are some regions that see more frequent severe thunderstorms, such as the area between Texas and Minnesota.

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