Atmospheric Phenomena

Thunder and Thunderstorms

When do thunderstorms occur?

In the United States thunderstorms usually occur in the summertime, especially from May through August. Thunderstorms tend to occur in late spring and summer when large amounts of tropical maritime air move across the United States. Storms usually develop when the surface air is heated the most from the Sun (2 to 4 P.M.). Thunderstorms are relatively rare only in far northern and coastal New England, as well as along the Pacific Coast. Florida, the Gulf states, and the southeastern states tend to have the most storms, averaging 70 to 90 annually. The mountainous southwest averages 50 to 70 storms annually. In the world, thunderstorms are most plentiful in the areas between latitude 35 degrees north and 35 degrees south; in these areas there can be as many as 3,200 storms within a 12-hour nighttime period. As many as 1,800 storms can occur at once throughout the world.

Lightning performs a vital function; it returns to the Earth much of the negative charge the Earth loses by leakage into the atmosphere. The annual death toll in the United States from lightning is greater than the annual death toll from tornadoes or hurricanes—150 Americans die annually from lightning and 250 are injured.


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