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Anatomy of a thunderstorm shows why storms come and go in a flash

Florida sees an abundance of thunderstorms in the summer season. According to the National Weather Service, Florida can report 70 to 100 days with thunderstorms a year.

"The temperature of the surface of the Earth heats rather quickly, which allows for the atmosphere to reach convective temperature, which in turn allows for cumulous clouds to develop," FPREN Meteorologist Justin Ballard said. "The taller the cloud, the more likely there is to be charge-separation, which leads to lightning."

In Florida, we tend to see afternoon storms form and dissipate rather quickly. These storms can pop up without much warning, and that makes them hard to forecast.

NWS Jacksonville shows in this tweet how "wildly different conditions can be depending on your location, from rain on the left side of the photo to no rain on the right," Ballard said. "The rain-cooled air then hits the ground and spreads out. Those outflow wind gusts, as we call them, can act as miniature cold fronts which lift warm air and produce additional thunderstorm development elsewhere.


This pattern produces the "foot"-shaped formation seen in the photo, typical of pulse thunderstorms. Pulse thunderstorms refer to the kind of storms that "are not associated with sea breeze boundaries," Ballard said. "Meanwhile, sea breeze thunderstorms form because of a convergence of air along the coastline." Pulse thunderstorms generally don't form like this, they typically pop up and dissipate within an hour.

As a reminder, the majority of lightning injuries occur outdoors, and incidents peak during the month of June, July and August. The NWS recommends that as soon as you hear thunder, head indoors or into a hard-topped vehicle. As of July 2022, 5 out of 7 lightning fatalities this year occurred in the Southeast.

Melissa Feito is a multimedia producer for Florida Storms and the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network (FPREN). Reach her with questions, story ideas or feedback at mfeito2@ufl.edu.