Everything you need to know about thundersnow

Shutterstock.com/ Martin McKenna
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While most of us have seen a thunderstorm in our lifetimes there is a rarer variety that only the lucky (or unlucky) few have witnessed. Thundersnow is similar to a thunderstorm with one clear difference; instead of rain, you experience snow. While that may sound like a thunderstorm in a colder part of the world it is actually far rarer than that and it is pretty amazing to see, as long as you are in a safe place.

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There are a number of key differences between a thunderstorm and thundersnow. The first difference is pretty clear and the name gives it away. Snow is a key feature of thundersnow. However, there are two other differences, one of which makes the thundersnow a sight that you should try to see. 

The snow actually muffles the sound of thunder that takes place in a thunderstorm. While thunder can be extremely loud during a thunderstorm it is more subdued during thundersnow. This is great if you have dogs or little children who hate the sound but is otherwise a little less impressive. What is impressive is the lightning.

If you have ever witnessed a thunderstorm and seen a beautiful fork of lightning travel from the sky above you will have been impressed. They are an amazing natural weather pattern that makes it look like the gods are truly angry with us. Looking at these same lightning strikes through pictures later they are usually even more impressive, thanks to a few editing efforts. However, the thundersnow lightning is even better. 

Lightning generally flashes violet or a shade of blue in a normal thunderstorm condition. In thundersnow it reflects off the snow in the sky and can appear a bright white or even golden. If Thor was to strike down on the world below he would do it in this way. 

Thundersnows can occur in three ways. A standard thunderstorm could hit a cold front and the rain could turn to snow. Cyclone conditions can produce thundersnow as the clouds form small towers on top. This causes the top layer of the cloud to become unstable resulting in an increase or decrease in electrons. Whenever there is a difference in electrons between two bodies, lightning can occur. Thundersnow is often found over lakes or oceans, this is because a cold front passes over warm air.

While these occurrences may not sound so unusual, l thundersnow is still considered very rare. There is an average of six thundersnows each year. Some of the most dramatic weather events we have seen over the last decade have featured thundersnow.  The reason it is rare is because in some ways it is a contradiction. The conditions that produce snow usually stabilize a weather pattern. While lightning occurs in an unstable weather pattern. 

While beautiful it is also dangerous, so it is not advised to run outside to grab a picture if one is occurring near you. The temperatures during thundersnow are extremely cold with poor visibility. Tropical force winds are also likely. However, the key difference that may surprise you is that the lightning is more positively charged and therefore more dangerous. In thundersnow conditions lightning is ten times stronger than in a thunderstorm. It can travel up to 25 miles further than the point the storm is taking place and can damage powerlines and lead to fires. 

Clearly thundersnow is not something to take lightly. Yet it is a beautiful natural occurrence that is worth witnessing if at all possible. We recommend doing so from indoors though. If you do manage to see thundersnow, please don’t forget to share the pictures with us.