Why isn’t there thunder and lightning when it snows?


Explain it like I’m 5. Pretty much the title. Is it too cold when it snows to see the lightning? Do we just not see/ hear the storm as well?

In: Earth Science

I can’t tell you why thunder and lightning is more rare during snow but I can say it does happen. It’s called Thundersnow and it’s extreme. I thought my house was going to shake apart.


It’s not impossible, but the snow acts as sound insulation which muffles the thunder. Not sure about the lightning.

Occasionally there is, and it’s called [thundersnow](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thundersnow). It’s relatively rare since thunderstorms are usually formed at the collision of a warm, moist mass of air with a cooler, denser air mass, and the atmosphere during winter tends to be neither warm nor moist.

1. On rare occasions, you do get thunder and lightning during snow storms, it’s called “thunder snow” Take for example a clip from my hometown: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=qZpaYEImx8Y

2. But it is rare, and you’re pretty much right on the reason. It’s cold. Lightning and thunder are produced by really energetic storms. Typically when dense cooler are rapidly mixes with warmer, moist air, forcing that moist air to rise quickly and cool, making that moisture turn into clouds/rain. It is this rapid and turbulent movement that generates the static electricity you need to create lightning. Snow storms, being colder, just generally don’t have that same kind of turbulent energy.

There definitely can be but the conditions that cause snow vs thunderstorms are often different. A thunderstorm happens when warm air rises in a moist airmass and creates upwards and downwards moving air, called updrafts and downdrafts respectively. The updrafts can easily move 100 feet/second and they carry little bits of dust and sand with them. When the particles caught inside the updrafts/downdrafts rub against each other they can take on a charge, when this happens enough you get lightning.

Snow on the other hand, comes from much shallower clouds. In the usual snow environment, the air is too cold for a lot of upward movement, so updrafts/downdrafts have trouble forming and thus lightning usually does not occur. Instead, a cloud will form where the temperature and dew point are equal, if that temperature happens to be below freezing or near it, then the water droplets can turn to snow/ice. As long as the air between the surface and the cloud stays below freezing then snow can fall. For reference, a strong cumulonimbus – thunderstorm cloud – can easily be over 30,000 feet tall. A nimbus cloud – rain cloud responsible for snow – will only be a couple thousand feet tall. However, this is not to say that snow thunderstorms are impossible. There are many mechanisms involved in storm formation and if conditions are right, the upper portions of the storm can have updrafts strong enough for lightning while the air below the storm is still below freezing and capable of snow.

It absolutely does happen. I was riding up the mountain on a chairlift in a thundersnow storm. Sitting 50 feet off the ground in a chairlift suspended on a steel cable held up by steel poles as you rise above the timberline is quite the experience.

It does happen… I heard two thunders and saw lightning flashing during the Texas snow this year.