Was that thunder we heard last night during the snowstorm? Yes, yes it was. That rumble in the clouds heard throughout the Prescott area was a rare and interesting weather occurrence called thundersnow.
Why is Thundersnow a big deal?
Thundersnow is a lot like it sounds, it’s when thunder and lightning occur during a snowstorm and is a weather phenomenon with serious implications. Often if you experience thundersnow, expect a good dump of snow to come from that storm.
In a 2023 article from National Geographic, an interview was conducted with Patrick Market, director of the University of Missouri’s School of Natural Resources discussing the impacts of thundersnow events. In a 2006 study conducted by Market, “86 percent of thundersnow events were associated with storms causing more than six inches of snowfall in a 24-hour period.”
How do we get Thundersnow?
Most of the time, when we experience thunder and lightning during a storm that is often accompanied by rain. Normal thunderstorms develop when warm, moist air rises from the Earth’s surface to create tall, narrow updrafts that can approach 40,000 feet or more.
Dr. Curtis James, Professor of Meteorology at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University explained that while conditions are similar in creation of thundersnow, this phenomenon is rare because cold air is rarely unstable, which is a large part of the development of warm weather thunderstorms.
Tony Merriman, Warning Coordination Meteorologist at National Weather Service Flagstaff, AZ explained, “There was a strong cold front that went through the Prescott area last night. The front forced cold and moist air upward allowing for ice (or graupel) to form in the clouds. The ice in the clouds rubbed together enough to cause a static charge, creating lightning.”
“Because the entire column of atmosphere was below freezing,” continued Merriman, “the primary precipitation type was snow. The two together make thundersnow.”
So last night, if you heard the rumbling in the skies, you were some lucky folks to experience the unusual and rare weather phenomenon called thundersnow!